A team of researchers at UC Santa Barbara has developed a breakthrough technology that can be used to discriminate cancerous prostate cells in bodily fluids from those that are healthy. The findings are published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (“Quantitative ratiometric discrimination between noncancerous and cancerous prostate cells based on neuropilin-1 overexpression”).
While the new technology is years away from use in a clinical setting, the researchers are nonetheless confident that it will be useful in developing a microdevice that will help in understanding when prostate cancer will metastasize, or spread to other parts of the body.
“There have been studies to find the relationship between the number of cancer cells in the blood, and the outcome of the disease,” said first author Alessia Pallaoro, postdoctoral fellow in UCSB’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “The higher the number of cancer cells there are in the patient’s blood, the worse the prognosis.
“The cancer cells that are found in the blood are thought to be the initiators of metastasis,” Pallaoro added. “It would be really important to be able to find them and recognize them within blood or other bodily fluids. This could be helpful for diagnosis and follow-ups during treatment.”
The team developed a novel technique to discriminate between cancerous and non-cancerous cells using a type of laser spectroscopy called surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) and silver nanoparticles, which are biotags.
The team is working to translate the technology into a diagnostic microdevice for studying cancer cells in the blood. Cells would be mixed with nanoparticles and passed through a laser, then discriminated by the ratio of two signals.
The two types of biotags used in this research have a particular affinity that is dictated by the peptide they carry on their surface. One type attaches to a cell receptor called neuropilin-1, a recently described biomarker found on the surface membrane of certain cancer cells. The other biotag binds many cell types (both cancerous and non-cancerous) and serves as a standard measure as the cells are analyzed.
In this study, the team mixed the two biotags and added them to the healthy and tumor cell cultures. The average SERS signal over a given cell image yielded a ratio of the two signals consistent with the cells’ known identity.