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nanomaterials, cancer detection, medical testing, over-the-counter cancer tests, University of Central Florida, UCF

Nanomaterials Used for Early Cancer Detection

Technology paves the way for over-the-counter cancer tests that are as simple to use as home pregnancy test strips.

When it comes to cancer, early detection gives a patient the best chance for survival. To help achieve this result, researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF) have developed nanomaterials that potentially can be used to create highly sensitive biosensors for cancer tests that can provide results just like pregnancy tests already available in pharmacies.

University of Central Florida (UCF) Assistant Professor Xiaohu Xia and his team are creating nanomaterials with hollow interiors that can be used to create highly sensitive biosensors for early cancer detection. (Image source: UCF)

A team led by Xiaohu Xia, an assistant professor of chemistry who also works in the university’s NanoScience Technology Center, developed the materials, which have hollow interiors that’s key to their functionality for this purpose, he said. Researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas and Chongqing University of Arts and Sciences in China also worked on the technology.

Hollow nanomaterials made of gold and silver alloys are known to have superior optical properties, which makes them viable for improving the same type of test-strip technology used in over-the counter pregnancy tests, Xia said.

Using these materials in this simple technology could make them sensitive enough to pick up markers indicating certain types of cancer and indicating positive or negative symbols on a test strip to communicate this, he said.

“These advanced hollow nanomaterials hold great potential to enable high-performance technologies in various areas,” Xia said in a press statement. “Potentially we could be talking about a better and less expensive diagnostic tool, sensitive enough to detect biomarkers at low concentrations, which could make it invaluable for early detection of cancers and infectious diseases.”

Conventional test strips found in pharmacies often already use solid gold nanoparticles as labels, where they connect to antibodies and s generate color signal due to an optical phenomenon called localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPR).

Xia and his team developed metallic nanomaterials with hollow interiors which, compared to their solid counterparts, have a much stronger LSPR capability and thus can offer a more intense color signal, he said.   

Cancer Detection in a Test Strip

When these new hollow nanomaterials are used as labels in test strips, they enable the strips to detect biomarkers at lower concentrations by inducing this sensitive color change, Xia explained.

“Test-strip technology gets upgraded by simply replacing solid gold nanoparticles with the unique hollow nanoparticles, while all other components of a test strip are kept unchanged,” he said in a press statement.

UCF researchers focused on testing for prostate-specific antigen, a biomarker for prostate cancer, they said. In experiments, the new test strip they developed based on hollow nanomaterials could detect PSA as low as 0.1 nanogram per milliliter (ng/mL)--sufficiently sensitive enough for clinical diagnostics of prostate cancer, researchers reported on a paper on their work in the journal ACS Nano.

The development of the hollow nanomaterials, then, paves the way for people to buy over-the-counter cancer tests just as they might a pregnancy test, bringing early cancer detection even to populations that might not have immediate access to medical facilities, Xia added.

 “The results can be determined with the naked eye without the need of any equipment,” he said in the statement. “These features make the strip extremely suitable for use in challenging locations such as remote villages.”

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

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