A nanoparticle-based technology could be used to improve the speed of diagnosis. This type of sensor could also be used to monitor whether antibiotic therapy has successfully treated the infection.

A strong immune response can be seen in this immunofluorescence image of lung tissue infected with pneumonia where immune cells are stained green and red. (Credit: Colin Buss)

The team developed nanoparticles coated with peptides (short proteins) that can be chopped up by certain proteases, such as those expressed by cancer cells. When these particles are injected into the body, they accumulate in tumors, if any are present, and proteases there chop the peptides from the nanoparticles. These peptides are eliminated as waste and can be detected by a simple urine test.

The researchers also developed a second nanoparticle-based sensor that can monitor the host's immune response to infection. These nanoparticles are covered in peptides that are cleaved by a type of protease called elastase, which is produced by immune cells called neutrophils.

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