New Nanoparticle to Help Cancer Diagnosis

Scientists have come one step closer in the battle against cancer by designing a new nanoparticle that can help to boost the effectiveness of MRI scanning. Currently, MRI scans are effective at spotting large tumours but not so good at identifying smaller ones. It is hoped that the use of the nanoparticle will help doctors to be able to catch cancers in early stages, giving patients the opportunity for more effective treatment.

The study, conducted by researchers at Imperial College, produced a nanoparticle that has the ability to self-assemble into a larger particle, growing from 100 nanometres to 800 nanometres after activation. This transformational ability of the nanoparticle means it can be more easily seen on a scan.

The nanoparticle is non-toxic and exists to seek out receptors in cancerous cells. The nanoparticle is covered in a special protein which, upon interaction with a cancer cell, is stripped off. This triggers the nanoparticle to self-assemble into the larger molecule, boosting the sensitivity of the MRI scan.

Upon comparison in mouse models with other imaging agents, it was found that the nanoparticle produced a much more powerful signal and gave a clearer MRI image. Such a skill boasted by the molecule will improve a doctor’s ability to detect cancer at earlier stages and hopefully save lives.

The nanoparticle has currently only been trialled on mice models but scientists hope to begin human trials within the next three to five years. Future research will be targeted on making the particle the optimal size ready for human use. The particle needs to be small enough so that it doesn’t cause damage but still large enough so that the body doesn’t automatically secrete it from the system. The researchers also state that they wish to improve the design in such a way that the nanoparticle would light up with a luminescent probe once it had located its cancerous target. This would make it even easier to identify tumours.

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Amy Moore

Amy is currently studying for a Masters in Science Communication. Follow her on twitter @_Amy_Moore91

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