Yes, imagine being able to sniff out cancer! Just like almost anything else in the world, even cancer cells, which have metastasized, have their own peculiar smell, so claim chemist Vincent Rotello and his team, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The researchers came to theory of cancer cells having a particular smell, by investigating the pre-clinical non-small-cell lung cancer metastasis model in mice developed by Frank Jirik and colleagues at the University of Calgary.
BioTecNika reports, of how Rotello’s team used a sensor array system of gold nanoparticles and proteins to ‘smell’ different cancer types. Wow! Sounds a little unreal to me; but then fact they say, is stranger than fiction!
Prior to carrying on this study with mice, Rotello had earlier developed a ‘chemical nose’.
What is a chemical nose? It is a nose, which is able to differentiate between normal cells and cancerous ones!
Sharing his views Rotello says,
With this tool, we can now actually detect and identify metastasized tumor cells in living animal tissue rapidly and effectively using the ‘nose’ strategy. We were the first group to use this approach in cells, which is relatively straightforward. Now we’ve done it in tissues and organs, which are very much more complex. With this advance, we’re much closer to the promise of a general diagnostic test.
For the purpose of the study, researchers used an array of gold nanoparticle sensors along with green fluorescent protein (GFP). This GFP activates in response to patterns in the proteins found in cancer cells within a short period of time. Thus a unique specific signature gets assigned to each cancer!
It’s sensitive to really subtle differences. Even though two cheeses may look the same, our noses can tell a nicely ripe one from a cheese that’s a few days past tasting good. In the same way, once we train the sensor array we can identify whether a tissue sample is healthy or not and what kind of cancer it is with very high accuracy. The sensitivity is impressive from a sample of only about 2,000 cells, a microbiopsy that’s less invasive for patients.
The sensory tests done on mice do show promise. Now, it is imperative to replicate the success with human subjects too. For imagine, if it proves to be successful with humans, it will make detection of cancer so much easier and non-invasive.
The sense of smell adds pleasure to life, now in future, it may even aid in preserving life, by detecting cancer early!
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