$1 test that uses gold nanoparticles can screen for prostate cancer quickly

A test for early-stage prostate cancer that costs less than $1 and yields results in minutes has been shown to be more sensitive and exact than the current standard test. The new test, developed by University of Central Florida (UCF; Orlando, FL) scientist Qun "Treen" Huo, holds the promise of earlier detection and would also reduce the number of unnecessary and invasive biopsies stemming from the less precise prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test.

Related: Super-sensitive rapid cancer biomarker test uses gold nanoparticles, dynamic light scattering

When a cancerous tumor begins to develop, the body mobilizes to produce antibodies. Huo's test detects that immune response using gold nanoparticles. When a few drops of blood serum from a finger prick are mixed with the gold nanoparticles, certain cancer biomarkers cling to the surface of the tiny particles, increasing their size and causing them to clump together.

Dr. Qun Huo of the University of Central Florida. (Credit: Mark Schlueb/UCF)

Among researchers, gold nanoparticles are known for their extraordinary efficiency at absorbing and scattering light. Huo and her team at UCF's NanoScience Technology Center developed a technique known as nanoparticle-enabled dynamic light scattering assay (NanoDLSay) to measure the size of the particles by analyzing the light they emit. That size reveals whether a patient has prostate cancer and how advanced it may be.

And although it uses gold, the test is cheap. A small bottle of nanoparticles suspended in water costs about $250, and contains enough for about 2500 tests.

Pilot studies found Huo's technique is significantly more exact. The test determines with 90- to 95-percent confidence that the result is not false-positive. When it comes to false-negatives, there is 50-percent confidence—not ideal, but still significantly higher than the PSA's 20 percent—and Huo is working to improve that number.

Huo's team is pursuing more extensive clinical validation studies with Florida Hospital and others, including the VA Medical Center Orlando. She hopes to complete major clinical trials and sees the test being used by physicians in two to three years. Also, she is researching her technique's effectiveness as a screening tool for other tumors.

Huo co-founded Nano Discovery Inc., a startup company headquartered in a UCF Business Incubator, to commercialize the new diagnostic test. The company manufacturers a test device specifically for medical research and diagnostic purposes.

Full details of the work appear in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces; for more information, please visit http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/acsami.5b00371.

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