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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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