NanoFlares detect cancer biomarkers

‘NanoFlares’ light up cancer cells in the blood, making significantly earlier detection a reality.

Northwestern University researchers have created a tool that detects cancer cells before they can settle in the body. The NanoFlare is made up of nano-scale spherical nucleic  acids that contain gold nanoparticle cores with single DNA ‘flares’; these expose the cancerous cells in the bloodstream with a ‘flare’, a fluorescent light that highlights the biomarker. The DNA sequences on the surface of the nanoparticles target RNA cells and are sensitive enough to detect even low percentages of cancer present in the cells [1].

“We’ve taken perhaps the world’s most important molecule, DNA, rearranged it into a spherical shape and modified it to detect specific molecules inside cells,” says Dr Chad Mirkin, a researcher at Northwestern University and one of the developers of this diagnostic tool [2].

Longevity.Technology: Nanotechnology is fast-becoming a vital tool for early disease detection meaning it will play an important role in keeping us alive and healthy for longer.

The TRL score for this Longevity.Technology domain is currently set at: ‘Principles are demonstrated through experimentation.’
The TRL score for the technology addressed in this article is:  ‘Early proof of concept demonstrated in the laboratory.’

In mouse animal trials, four NanoFlares were tested with biomarkers for breast cancer. The University’s press release revealed that the technology successfully identified cancerous cells with false negatives occurring only 1% of the time [3].

These NanoFlares were tested both in cell cultures of cancer patients and healthy people; the particles detected breast cancer, lighting up the cells for early detection. While there are other diagnostic tools for detection, this is the first genetic-approach method that isolates and allows genetic analysis of live cancerous cells [4].

The ‘flares’ that make the cells light up are a unique feature that both help identify which areas of the body are impacted and also prevents the cells from settling. The ability to catch cancer early, as well as testing various drugs for efficacy, means better and customised treatment options will deliver a significant step forward in the treatment of cancer, saving countless lives and improving the Longevity outlook for patients.

The method developed by Northwestern researchers is still being adapted for clinical use. Currently, the most frequently used detection method for cancerous cells uses antibodies.  However, this diagnostic tool is challenging to use, making this new technique a much better alternative. The encouraging results from the laboratory tests mean the research team is planning to start human trials of NanoFlare in the next couple of years [5].

The global nanomedical technology market is set to reach $293.1 billion by 2022 [6]. With the increasing digitisation of healthcare, funding and awareness of technologies such as the NanoFlare on the rise, early detection will be a winner for both patients and investors.