Nano-sensor zeros in on lung cancer marker

Some biomarkers lack technologies to precisely detect them for medical applications. With potential uses to spot lung cancers at an early stage--a holy grail of biomarker research--a nanopore sensor in the works has shown an ability to pick up on very specific tumor-related microRNAs from lung cancer patients' plasma samples.

Researchers from the University of Missouri recently reported their work on the nanopore sensor online in Nature Nanotechnology. According to the group's paper abstract, microRNAs are a focus of disease biomarker research, but tracking them down in blood samples can be tricky because other technologies fall short of the requisite sensitivity and specificity. Their solution is a sensor based on the protein called α-haemolysin that requires none of the labeling and amplification steps of existing methods such as qRT-PCR and features DNA probes that can be modified to zero in on specific disease-related miRNAs.

"Compared with qRT-PCR, the nanopore method we developed can directly detect microRNA without the need of enzymatic reaction, labeling and amplification, while it is also simpler to operate at a low cost. Our nanopore method measures miRNA at single molecular level with very high sensitivity and specificity," said Liqun Gu, an associate professor in biological engineering Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center and at the University of Missouri, as quoted by Nanowerk.

To validate the early findings in the Nature publication, according to Nanowerk, Gu and his collaborators plan to test their nanopore sensor with a larger number of lung cancer patients' blood samples, which will include those from cancers at different stages and those from a variety of tissue types. The group is also looking ahead at advancing the technology to detect more than one microRNA at a time, providing a look at a variety of the molecules that regulate gene expression.

- see the article in Nanowerk
- here's the abstract in Nature Nanotechnology