Add another nano-prefixed word to the lexicon: NanoSponges. This one comes courtesy of an international team of researchers from the U.S. and Italy. They've come up with "sponges" that can sop up a potential cancer biomarker before enzymes in the blood can break it down, making it undetectable.
Lance Liotta of George Mason University and Caterina Longo from the University of Moderna and Regio Emilia published their findings in the journal Experimental Dermatology.
The team first created the NanoSponges by developing some highly porous nanoparticles--what their paper describes as "hydrogel core shell nanoparticles." Then, they set the "bait," by decorating the sponge interiors with different types of molecules that could "selectively harvest" large families of low-abundance proteins from the blood, keeping them separate from the relatively large enzymes that can degrade protein in the blood. The researchers then analyzed the proteins trapped in the sponges and checked for biomarkers.
Here's what they found: Collected in the NanoSponges was a protein called Bak, which is associated with melanomas. There needs to be more tests to confirm the results, but it looks as though they discovered an early prognostic indicator for melanoma. On a larger scale, they also demonstrated that these baited NanoSponges could trap and protect rare proteins for later analysis for disease biomarkers.