We all know how early disease detection drastically improves the chance of survival — especially if that disease is cancer. In a new approach to this problem, researchers from MIT have engineered a series of ultra-microscopic particles that bind to disease-specific types of microRNA — a genetic material which affects gene expression in the nucleus. In cancer cells however, the microRNA has somehow malfunctioned which leads to rapid and unregulated cell growth that can ultimately form tumors.
“There are many challenges to detecting microRNA. There’s not an accepted gold standard,” says MIT team leader and professor of chemical engineering Patrick Doyle. “Everybody has their own favorite one.”
“Detecting microRNA from a blood sample would be much more efficient,” Doyle says. Not to mention faster, and with cancer, time is of the essence.
The new technology makes use of microscopic hydrogel particles around 200 micrometers in length — hydrogels are cross-linked, water-absorbing polymers that are attracted to nucleic acids (the building blocks of RNA and DNA). This new hydrogel technique can sense as few as 10,000 strands of specific microRNA and thus yields more reliable results than other currently available procedures which utilize fluorescent probes as labels. Looks promising, lets see how its implemented in the near future (hopefully).