After George Mason University's Emanuel F. Petricoin III and Lance A. Liotta published a Lancet paper in 2002 on ovarian cancer biomarkers, the two got to thinking about all the harder-to-detect biomarkers in the blood just out of discovery's reach for want of instruments sensitive enough to detect them. "We see hundreds and hundreds of low-abundance biomarkers in the blood that were never known to exist," Liotta tells Chemical & Engineering News. "There really is a diagnostic gold mine out there."
So, they did what many biotech researchers do when they want a sensitive job done: They created nanoparticles. Many biomarkers, the researchers say, are stuck to albumin in the blood. But there's so much albumin that it's hard to get at the biomarker beneath. The nanoparticles collect and concentrate the biomarkers and toss out the albumin, according to C&E News.
But creating nanoparticles is the first step toward digging for biomarker gold. The second is to come up with the "picks and shovels" that help do the digging. For that, the researchers say, any analytical method--such as immunoassays and mass spectrometry--will do the job. And, three years ago, Petricoin and Liotta stuck a brand name on their nanoparticles, Nanotrap, and co-founded a company called Ceres Nanosciences to develop and sell them. They partner with Italy's ISS (Istituto Superiore di Sanitá), which supplies serum samples.