A diagnostic nanoparticle can reveal the presence of cancerous proteins. (Credit: MIT)

A new diagnostic nano-particle can reveal the presence of cancerous proteins through a urine test, and it functions as an imaging agent, pinpointing the tumor location. In principle, this diagnostic could be used to detect cancer anywhere in the body, including tumors that have metastasized from their original locations.

The researchers showed that the diagnostic could be used to monitor the progression of colon cancer, including the spread of metastatic tumors to the lung and the liver. Eventually, they hope it could be developed into a routine cancer test that could be performed annually.

The researchers wanted to develop what they call a multimodal diagnostic, which can perform both molecular screening (detecting the urinary signal) and imaging, to tell them exactly where the original tumor and any metastases are located.

To modify the particles so they could also be used for PET imaging, they added a radioactive tracer called copper-64. They also coated them with a peptide that is attracted to acidic environments, such as the microenvironment in tumors, to induce the particles to accumulate at tumor sites. Once they reach a tumor, these peptides insert themselves into cell membranes, creating a strong imaging signal above background noise.

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