Scientists develop nose-like device to sniff out cancer cells

Scientists develop nose-like device to sniff out cancer cells

Scientists claim to have developed a sensor array system which can “smell” different cancer types in the same way a human nose can identify and remember different odours.

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a sensor array system of gold nanoparticles and proteins to detect microscopic levels of many different metastatic cell types in living tissue.

In a pre-clinical non-small-cell lung cancer metastasis model in mice developed by Frank Jirik and colleagues at the University of Calgary, Vincent Rotello’s team at UMass Amherst used the array sensor system to “smell” different odours.

The new work builds on Rotello and colleagues’ earlier development of a “chemical nose” array of nanoparticles and polymers able to differentiate between normal cells and cancerous ones.

“With this tool, we can now actually detect and identify metastasised tumour cells in living animal tissue rapidly and effectively using the ‘nose’ strategy,” researchers said.

“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,” researchers said in a statement.

Until now the standard method for precisely identifying cancer cells used a biological receptor approach, a protein binding to a cancer cell wall. Its major drawback is that one must know the appropriate receptor beforehand.

Rotello used an array of gold nanoparticle sensors plus green fluorescent protein (GFP) that activates in response to patterns in the proteins found in cancer cells within minutes, assigning a unique signature to each cancer.