Using Nanotechnology in Medicine: Detecting Blood Clots and Cancer Cells

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The application of nanotechnology in medicine provides exciting possibilities which could revolutionise methods of detecting and treating damage to the human body using nanoparticles.

Nanoparticles can be used in the efficient delivery of drugs to diseased cells when treating cancer or other diseases. Nanoparticles can also be used in the diagnosis of life-threatening blood clots which often remain unexposed until they break down in the body.

Engineered Nanoparticles for the Detection of Cancer

Recently researchers at MIT have created synthetic nanoparticles which allow a better detection of blood clots and cancer. The researchers coated nanoparticles with a number of short protein fragments known as peptides.

These peptides are usually degraded by proteases which are largely produced by cancer cells.

When injected into the body, these engineered nanoparticles are carried to the tumour sites via blood vessels.

Once they arrive at the tumour sites, they are quickly fragmented by the proteases. The small fragments are then released into the bloodstream.

Finally, the fragments are removed from the body through urine. The urine samples are then tested for the peptide fragments.

Cancer or other diseases can thus be determined using the type and amount of peptide present in urine. The researchers carried out their study in mice and found that the synthetic nanoparticles accurately reported the presence of early stage colorectal cancer.

Synthetic Biomarker for Detecting Blood Clots

Further research carried out by the MIT researchers proved that a little modification of their engineered nanoparticles enabled detection of blood clots in mice.

Once again, using simple urine test, the researchers were able to demonstrate that blood clots can be identified by using synthetic nanoparticles as biomarkers.

They coated these nanoparticles with peptides which associate with thrombin, an enzyme used in the formation of blood clots.

Upon injecting these peptide-coated nanoparticles into mice which had clots in their lungs, the enzyme thrombin split the peptides on the nanoparticles. The fragments were then excreted through urine which confirmed the presence of clots.

According to the researchers, these nanoparticles are capable of detecting even small blood clots that are not identified by conventional testing procedures.

Biomarkers to Detect Cancer and Other Diseases

With the evolution of nanotechnology, the potential applications of engineered nanomaterials have progressed rapidly into cancer treatment, disease diagnoses, medical imaging, drug delivery and other areas.

Scientists have long been working on biomarkers which can detect cancer and other diseases but this has proved a challenging task. The recent discovery of synthetic biomarkers has been remarkable in the early diagnosis of cancer and the monitoring of tiny blood clots in the body.

In the near future, researchers hope to develop nanoparticles which target specific cells and deliver drugs across complex body systems in order to improve immune response.

References and Further Reading


Alexander Chilton

Written by

Alexander Chilton

Alexander has a BSc in Physics from the University of Sheffield. After graduating, he spent two years working in Sheffield for a large UK-based law firm, before relocating back to the North West and joining the editorial team at AZoNetwork. Alexander is particularly interested in the history and philosophy of science, as well as science communication. Outside of work, Alexander can often be found at gigs, record shopping or watching Crewe Alexandra trying to avoid relegation to League Two.


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