An electro-chemical process designed to help doctors spot mesothelioma cells in blood serum has been developed by biotech researchers in New York City.
The new procedure detects a protein, HAPLN1, which is strongly expressed in the serum of people with mesothelioma. Early identification of this fatal cancer, which attacks the lung linings and is caused by exposure to asbestos fibres, is vitally important because of the difficulties of treating it.
Conventional cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, have little effect on mesothelioma. However, a biomarker like HAPLN1 could help doctors differentiate mesothelioma from other diseases whose symptoms are similar.
The researchers initially trialled the system using a bovine protein, BSA, whose molecular structure is close to HAPLN1. While the procedure failed to detect the BSA, its benefits were influenced by the sample's concentration of protein, the electrode size and the length of incubation time permitted the sample.
Once researchers were happy that the BSA had optimised the biodetection system, they used HAPLN1, with promising results.
In a report published in the journal PLoS One, the team wrote that a molecular imprinting-based biosensor had been developed to detect the malignant pleural mesothelioma cancer biomarker HAPLN1. "[This] demonstrated high sensitivity by detecting low concentration of biomarker in serum/buffer solution," the report said.
The sensor spotted the HAPLN1 and identified mesothelioma within between 2 and 5 minutes, with the researchers noting the process's relatively low cost and the fact that the sensor is "as simple to use as a pH test".