UCF scientists detect cancer
Prostate cancer test could be available within six years
Published: Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 17:05
Scientists from the NanoScience Technology Center at UCF have developed a test that more accurately detects prostate cancer tumors and their aggressiveness. The test could be available to patients within five to six years.
The experiment relies on nanotechnology patented three years ago by a UCF research team, led by associate professor Qun “Treen” Huo. Huo and her team developed a technology called NanoDLSay, which is short for nanoparticle-enabled dynamic light scattering assay. It allows scientists to study tiny molecules by observing how they interact with gold nanoparticles.
“Many scientists are very interested in [nanoparticle technology],” Huo said. “It’s like a light bulb. It allows scientists to see and to detect what otherwise cannot be detected using other techniques.”
Huo discovered that a cancerous tumor in a patient interacts with immunoglobulin G, or IgG, a protein antibody that is part of the body’s immune system. The test involves mixing gold nanoparticles, which are about 1,000 times smaller than a strand of hair, with human tissue samples. The IgG then forms a corona around the gold nanoparticles, and after measuring the size of this corona, scientists can assess the aggressiveness of the tumor.
Huo and her team receive most of their funding for the development of the NanoDLSay technology from grants. More than $1 million total has been provided by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Florida Department of Health and the state of Florida.
The next step, Huo said, is to pass several clinical validation studies, where the researchers will work with the Florida Hospital Cancer Institute and use the test on several hundred human patients. After that, the test will go through clinical trials.
“Clinical study means … the doctor is not going to use our results to treat patients,” Huo said. “Once we see that we do better than the current test, then we can do a clinical trial, and then the doctor will use our results to make a judgment, ‘Should we treat this patient or not?’”
If it passes the clinical trial stage, the test should be ready for commercialization within five to six years from now, Huo said. Huo recently started her own company, Nano Discovery Inc., to help the NanoDLSay technology enter the diagnostic market.
According to the American Cancer Society’s website, although one in six men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, only one out of 36 men will die from it. In fact, more than 2.5 million men diagnosed with prostate cancer are still alive today. According to statistics, prostate cancer is more common in older men: nearly two-thirds of all diagnoses occur in men ages 65 or older.
“If you’re 75 and you have a cancer which will not bother you in the next 10-15 years, you probably don’t care,” Huo said.
Depending on how aggressive the tumor is, prostate cancer is often cured by surgical removal of the prostate gland, which is crucial to the body because it regulates semen production and urine flow. Dr. Marvin Young, a urologist at the Urology Wellness Center in Lake Mary, notes that removal of the prostate can lead to incontinence and loss of erections, and this can be devastating for young males who must undergo this operation.
“This type of disease you used to see in men in their 40s, you’re now seeing it in their 20s and 30s,” Young said. “For younger guys, it’s a much bigger deal. For an old guy who’s married, has kids, it’s not as big a deal.”
NanoDLSay can be used to analyze other forms of cancer as well. Nickisha Pierre-Pierre, a graduate student studying biomedical science, thinks this technology would be even more effective in diagnosing deadlier cancers.
“I think it’s more accurate than the tests we have now [for prostate cancer],” she said. “It could eventually be used to more accurately detect breast cancer."
Huo’s work has been featured in the Journal of Translational Medicine, as well as other news and science outlets. Her research placed second runner-up in the 3rd Annual Cade Museum Prize competition in Gainesville, which featured 120 scientific innovators from around the state of Florida. Huo is a recipient of a Scholars Boost award from the State University System of Florida, which awarded her $225,000 for her research in nanochemistry.
Huo is amazed at her team’s progress so far and is proud that UCF owns the patent on her widely used technology.
“I have to make my research useful,” Huo said. “Other researchers use this technique for all kinds of detection … environmentally toxic metals, influenza viruses, DNA … you develop a technology, you don’t want just [yourself] to use it. … I was very pleased to see so many people around the world using our technology.”