Lead researcher Joseph Irudayaraj, an associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering, says that the method will be about three times cheaper than the current analogous technology called flow cytometry, and that it has the potential to provide many times the quantity and quality of data.
"We hope that this technology will soon play a critical role in early detection and monitoring of breast cancer. Our goal is to see it in commercial use in about four years," said Irudayaraj.
The gold nanoparticles are tiny rod-shaped gold particles, even smaller than viruses, which are equipped with antibodies designed to bind to a specific marker on cell surfaces. Researchers analyse these surface markers, proteins on a cell's exterior, because they can contain valuable information about what type of cell they belong to or in what state that cell may be.
"In cancer diagnosis, the ability to accurately detect certain key markers will be very helpful because certain types of cancers have specific surface markers," Irudayaraj said.
While flow cytometry requires hundred to thousands of cells to diagnose cancer, the gold nanoparticles require only a few cells, which is why it may be advantageous when dealing with scarce sample sizes, says the researcher.
Working in collaboration with postdoctoral researcher Chenxu Yu and Harikrishna Nakshatri, a researcher at the Indiana University School of Medicine, Irudayaraj showed that the gold nanoparticles bind to three different markers-two were used to calculate the invasiveness of the cancer cell, while one was used to calculate the degree to which the other markers were expressed, or present.
Irudayaraj believes that the gold nanoparticles will be able to detect as many as 15 different markers in the future, possibly opening the door for even more comprehensive tests.
He is now planning to further develop the technology, and is researching mechanical properties of the nanoparticles and the surface markers to which they bind so that such nanorods could be created as are capable of binding to more markers and to provide more information about these markers and what they reveal about the state of the cell.
The new invention has been reported online in the journal Analytical Chemistry.