One of the trickiest parts about cancer is the fact that one can have it for extended periods of time without even realizing it. And while you’re running around drinking beer and GTL, damaged cancerous cells could be rolling through your blood stream and taking up root in other areas of your body.
Hell, even if you know you have cancer it’s tough to figure out if there’s a danger of it spreading. After all, those cancerous cells responsible for its spread are like needles in a haystack – literally a few of a billion cells running through your veins.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could go to a physical and have a quick, cheap, easy test to tell whether or not there were rogue cancerous cells on the loose inside your body?
That’s what Seungpyo Hong from the University of Chicago is working on. In a recent study, he showed that a new method for detecting these cells is seven times better at its job than the current gold standard.
The secret to the technique is some fancy biomimicry and nanotechnology to create artificial surfaces that bind to the cancerous cells just like the actual body does. At the forefront of the technique is a highly sensitive surface that enables multivalent binding using dendrimers of seventh-generation polyamidoamine (PAMAM) and the anti-epithelial cell adhesion molecule (AEpCAM).
If that last sentence made your head hurt as badly as mine, please let me continue.
A dendrimer is nothing more than a molecule that repeatedly branches out, usually in a spherical form. It’s like one of those balls with a ton of tiny suction cups sticking out of it that slowly rolls down your sliding glass door. The PAMAM molecules formed the branches while the aEpCAM provided the suction. Except, instead of sucking glass, they bind to cancerous cells in the blood stream. And since there’s so many different suction cups, they can bind to multiple cells at the same time.
And finally, to enhance the “suction” of the dendrimer even more, the researchers “licked the suction cups” by applying E-selectin, which mimics how circulating tumor cells are grabbed by the interior lining of blood vessels and allows the “suction cup” to suck even harder.
In the end, the technique could be applied to create extremely sensitive tests that could give early warnings to cancerous cells in the blood stream.
Did you get all that? I hope so, because my brain hurts from looking up so many biological terms. Oh well. Time for a beer and GTL.