A research group in China has developed a sensor that acts like ‘Velcro’ for prostate cancer cells, trapping them on a modified frosted glass slide so that they can be identified from blood samples. The low-cost method, reported in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, could help doctors better diagnose and monitor the disease. In men with prostate cancer, some tumour cells exit the prostate gland and circulate in the blood.
Detecting these cells could enable diagnosis at an earlier stage or help doctors assess whether treatment is effective. However, because circulating tumour cells are present in very small numbers, finding them can be a challenge.
Previous sensors have been expensive and difficult to make. In the present study, scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences sought to develop a simpler, more cost-effective way to monitor prostate cancer cells in the blood.
The researchers based their device on frosted glass microscope slides, commonplace in high school science classes. The frosted area, which is used to hold and label the slide, is a sandblasted surface with tiny depressions. The researchers added a solution to the frosted slides that caused silica nanowires to grow on their surfaces.
They then attached antibodies that recognised prostate cancer cells from the nanowires. This caused circulating tumour cells in patient blood samples to become trapped in the depressions on the slide and tangled up within the nanowires, similar to the interlocking surfaces of Velcro. The team could then visualise the cancer cells using a microscope.
The researchers reported that the device could detect as few as ten tumour cells in one milliliter of blood from prostate cancer patients, making it a simple, yet sensitive diagnostic.