Unfortunately, malignant melanoma is the most potent form of skin cancer. For example, in more than 50% of affected patients the mutation plays an important role. However, life span of the patients carrying the mutation can be extended by novel drugs, and so it is very important to identify them reliably. Therefore, for identification purposes, researchers from the University of Basel (UoB) and the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Lausanne, have managed to develop a novel method, as reported in the journal Nature Nanotechnology
In Switzerland, annually approximately 2,100 people are affected by malignant melanoma, which makes it one of the most frequent cancerous tumours. When detected early thankfully the prospects of recovery are very positive, whereas at later stages the probability of survival are reduced dramatically.
In the last few years, various novel drugs have been developed which takes advantage of the presence of particular genetic mutations related to fast cell growth in tissue. In the case of melanoma, the typically known serine/threonline-protein kinase B-Raf (BRAF) gene is of importance, which leads in its mutated state to uncontrolled cell growth. Only approximately 50% of patients with malignant melanoma show this mutation, so it is important to identify patients who positively respond to the novel therapy. However, the drug has some negative side effects, and so it would not be appropriate to apply the drug to all patients.
Diagnosis involving molecular interaction
Recently research teams from Professor Christoph Gerber's group, Swiss Nanoscience Institute, UoB, and Dr Donata Rimoldi, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Lausanne, have managed to develop a novel diagnostic method which analyses the ribonucleic acid (RNA) of cancer cells by using nanomechanical sensors, i.e. microscopical small cantilevers. The method enables for healthy cells to be easily distinguished from cancer cells. Whereas other similar methods, for example, the cantilever approach is too sensitive that neither DNA needs to be amplified nor labelled.
Essentially the method is based on binding of molecules to the top surface of a cantilever and the related change is surface stress. For this reason the cantilevers are first coated with a layer of DNA molecules which can bind mutated RNA from cells. The binding process deflects the cantilever. The bending is measured employing a laser beam. The molecular interaction must take place very close to the cantilever surface to ultimately produce a signal.
Detection of other types of cancer
In the researchers experiments they managed to show that the cells carrying this genetic mutation can in fact be distinguished from others lacking the mutation. RNA of cells from a cell culture was tested in concentrations similar to those in tissue samples. Because the researchers could detect the mutation in RNA stemming from different cell lines, the method works independent of the origin of samples.
First author, Dr François Huber, states - "the technique can also be applied to other types of cancer that depend on mutations in individual genes, for example, in gastrointestinal tumors and lung cancer." This positively demonstrates the wide application potential in cancer diagnostics and personalised health care. Dr Donata Rimoldi, co-author, states - "only the interdisciplinary approach in medicine, biology and physics allows to apply novel nanotechnology methods in medicine for the benefit of patients." Original article available here
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