Ovarian cancer is notoriously difficult to detect in the early stages, resulting in poor survival rates for patients. MIT engineers have developed a synthetic biomarker that could detect ovarian tumors five months earlier than current testing methods.
Early Cancer Treatment of Ovarian Tumors
Five-year survival rates surpass 90 percent when ovarian cancer is detected early. Unfortunately, the disease is usually asymptomatic in the earlier stages. Any symptoms that do present tend to be non-specific, such as fatigue and weight loss.
Current testing looks for the presence of blood biomarkers produced by ovarian tumors, but it can take eight to 10 years for them to reach a high enough concentration to be detected. Ultrasound imaging reveals only tumors that are at least one centimeter in diameter.
Synthetic vs. Natural Biomarkers
Synthetic biomarkers are nanoparticles that interact with tumor proteins. The process releases fragments that can be detected in a patient’s urine, resulting in a more accurate test than one conducted on natural biomarkers in the bloodstream.
Professor Sangeeta Bhatia and her team at MIT engineered a synthetic biomarker to be approximately 15 times better than a previous version. The nanoparticle was then tested against a blood biomarker in mice with ovarian cancer.
The synthetic biomarker was able to detect ovarian cancer composed of tumors as small as two millimeters in diameter. Researchers are now testing the possibility of using this method with other types of cancer.
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