Nanoscale technique set to springboard cancer discoveries

University of Manchester researchers able to get more data from blood of cancer patients than previously possible

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MANCHESTER, U.K.—Scientists conducting a Cancer Research UK-funded study (recently published in Advanced Materials) at the University of Manchester recently developed a technique that they say has allowed them to extract more information from the blood of cancer patients than ever possible before, a discovery that could potentially accelerate early diagnosis, speed up drug discovery and lead to advancements in personalized medicines.
The researchers collected blood samples from women with advanced ovarian cancer who were treated with a chemotherapy drug called Caelyx—this drug is contained in a soft, lipid-based nanoparticle, called a liposome, which acts as a vessel to help minimize side effects. Women gave a sample of blood, following an injection of Caelyx over a course of 90 minutes as part of their treatment. By extracting the injected liposomes, the scientists were able to detect a wide variety of biomolecules that stuck to the surface of the liposome, called the biomolecule corona.
Prof. Kostas Kostarelos, lead author from the University of Manchester, said: “We’re astonished at how rich the information was on the surface of the liposomes taken from the blood. We hope this technique could be a springboard for further research, from monitoring disease progression or recurrence to identifying which treatment is best for each patient and potentially finding new biomarkers for early diagnosis.”
This is a step forward in developing a better technique to gather information from patients’ blood, the researchers say, noting that a “halo effect” of biomolecules sticking to the liposomes has been seen before, but only after dipping the nanoparticles in blood samples in a tube outside the patient’s body.
“The blood is a potential gold mine of information, but there’s a challenge to amplify cancer signals that would otherwise be buried within the ‘noise’,” explained Dr. Marilena Hadjidemetriou, a study author from the University of Manchester. “More abundant proteins mask rarer and smaller molecules that could be significant in helping us to understand disease progression or finding potential new drug targets. This technique overcomes this challenge.”
Added Prof. Caroline Dive, Cancer Research UK’s expert in liquid biopsies: “Finding a test to help diagnose, track and treat cancer is something many scientists are pursuing. Liquid biopsies are quicker, cheaper and less invasive than many other tests, and this technique is an important early step in developing such a test. Further work will reveal what the information captured using liposomes can tell us about the disease.”
The researchers now plan to test this technique in mouse models to help find the best patterns of biomarkers that could potentially be used to identify cancers in the early stages of disease in humans.

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