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Make Them Glow

Nanoparticles dubbed 'NanoFlares,' developed by Northwestern University researchers, may eventually be able to help clinicians detect circulating tumor cells in patients' blood.

As Northwestern's Shad Thaxton and colleagues report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they devised gold nanoparticles that can attach to certain cancer molecules based on their genetic markers and glow. The nanoparticles contain a monolayer of single-stranded DNA that has a 3' thiol that's complementary to mRNA for the target gene of interest. That recognition sequence of the ssDNA is prehybridized to a short DNA complement that contains a fluorescent reporter. That fluorescence is quenched when the molecule close to the gold molecule, but when the target mRNA binds that sequence, the reporter is displaced and glows.

As MIT's Technology Review notes, Thaxton and colleagues were able to use this approach to identify breast cancer cells that had been added to a sample of human blood, adding that the next step is to see whether this approach and also find such cells in samples from patients themselves.

"The ability to detect and quantify live patient-derived CTCs will provide vital information both in the study of cancer metastasis and the application of personalized medicine," the researchers say in PNAS.


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The Scan

Interfering With Invasive Mussels

The Chicago Tribune reports that researchers are studying whether RNA interference- or CRISPR-based approaches can combat invasive freshwater mussels.

Participation Analysis

A new study finds that women tend to participate less at scientific meetings but that some changes can lead to increased involvement, the Guardian reports.

Right Whales' Decline

A research study plans to use genetic analysis to gain insight into population decline among North American right whales, according to CBC.

Science Papers Tie Rare Mutations to Short Stature, Immunodeficiency; Present Single-Cell Transcriptomics Map

In Science this week: pair of mutations in one gene uncovered in brothers with short stature and immunodeficiency, and more.