Tiny particles could assist in breast cancer screening

These optically barcoded nanoparticles could transform cancer diagnosis.
These optically barcoded nanoparticles could transform cancer diagnosis.

Blood tests using nanoparticles carrying molecules which can detect breast cancer biomarkers could save millions of lives and open the way to mass screening for many cancers.

Prof. Matt Trau, of the Australian Institute for Bioengineering & Nanotechnology at the University of Queensland, and his team are using a combination of nanotechnology and molecular biology in the project, funded by a five-year $5 million grant from the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Over a million new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year and the number is rising. “Early detection is a life saver,” says Matt. “About 90 per cent of cancer patients will survive beyond five years as long as the cancer is detected and treated early. In the late stages of the disease, that figure can drop to 10 to 20 per cent.

“By the time a lump in the breast becomes obvious, it is often too late,” he says. “We also need new technologies to detect the recurrence of the disease after treatment, and also to personalise treatment depending on the specific type of breast cancer which the patience has.”

Matt is collaborating with Prof. Susan Clark, of Sydney’s Garvan Institute, who is investigating specific epigenetic biomarkers in genes which are considered the smoking gun of some cancers.

Matt’s nanoparticles are coated with optical and chemical ‘barcodes’ which react with the epigenetic gene sequences. A simple reader then provides the results.

Contributed by the National Enabling Technologies Program of the Department of Innovation.

For more information: Australian Institute for Bioengineering & Nanotechnology, Matt Trau, Tel: +61 (7) 3346 4173, m.trau@uq.edu.au, www.nanobio.uq.edu.au, www.aibn.uq.edu.au