A nip in the bud

Lung cancers are far more curable when they’re caught early. In an April paper in Science Translational Medicine, Ludwig MIT’s Sangeeta Bhatia and her team describe a simple urine test that captures lung cancer in its earliest stages in mice, and does so accurately. The test relies on nanoparticles developed in Sangeeta’s lab that are coated with short protein fragments, or peptides, which are specifically cut by protease enzymes associated with various tumors. This releases biomarkers that can be easily detected in urine. Sangeeta and her colleagues identified proteases preferentially expressed by lung cancer cells and created a panel of 14 nanoparticles coated with their target peptides. They then inserted the sensors into the airways of mouse models engineered to spontaneously develop one of two different types of lung tumors. Their urine test accurately detected tumors in one of the mouse models as early as 7.5 weeks after the onset of tumor growth, when the tumors were only about 2.8 cubic millimeters in size. In the other mouse model, tumors could be detected at 5 weeks. The sensors detected cancer at least as well or better than CT scans. Click here to watch a video on this new technology.

This article appeared in the August 2020 issue of Ludwig Link. Click here to download a PDF (2 MB).


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