DEC 11, 2018 11:00 AM PST

Biosensors developed that can detect cancer's metastatic ability

WRITTEN BY: Heba El Wassef

Researchers in University of California San Diego School of Medicine have developed a biosensor that can detect whether a cancer cell will spread in the future or not, which will help in developing a personalized treatment for each cancer patient based on whether the tumor will further metastasize or not. The paper was published in iScience.

“Cancer would not be so devastating if it did not metastasize,” said Pradipta Ghosh, MD, professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine departments of Medicine and Cellular and Molecular Medicine, director of the Center for Network Medicine and senior study author.

Metastasis is the leading cause of death in cancer patients, it could be detected after its occurrence, but there was no way to detect the potentiality of it happening in the future. The newly developed fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) biosensors can monitor multiple signals that drive metastasis; upon sensing those signals a fluorescent signal will be turned on only if there is high potentiality for metastasis and this signal can be measured.

A tumor cell that has acquired high metastatic potential during chemotherapy lights up with high FRET biosensor readout, whereas the cells that are sensitive to chemotherapy (and hence, low potential) stays dark. Credit: UC San Diego News Center

The researchers lead by Dr. Pradipta Ghosh started looking for a biomarker that can act as a signal that will be detected by FRET biosensors, a cancer phosphoprotein that is absent in normal cells, involved in cellular processes, bind or modulate actin which is essential in cancer invasion, and is involved in cancer migration. They identified a particular protein and its unique modification that is only present in cancer cells called tyrosine-phosphorylated CCDC88A (GIV/Girdin) that fits all the criteria needed.

The team used FRET biosensors and microscopes to monitor the modifications of GIV, and a fluorescent signal was turned on reflecting a high potentiality for metastasis. These biosensors can detect and measure the metastatic potential of a single cancer cell in any type of cancer and can remain effective despite the changes in cancer cells occurring during disease progression or as a result of anti-cancer drugs.

The development of FRET biosensors will help to develop a personalized treatment based on each patients condition, for example sparing patients whose cancers do not have metastatic potential from unnecessary therapies while patients whose cancers are believed to metastasize can be treated with precision medicine to target the metastatic cells.

“It is like looking at a Magic 8 Ball, but with a proper yardstick to measure the immeasurable and predict outcomes,” said Ghosh. “We have the potential not only to obtain information on single cell level but also to see the plasticity of the process occurring in a single cell. This kind of imaging can be used when we are delivering treatment to see how individual cells are responding.”

The sensors need further improvements before being used for in vivo imaging studies as advised by the research team, but they have the potential to become a breakthrough in cancer biology.

Watch the video below to understand more about biosensors.

Sources: ScienceDaily via UC San Diego

About the Author
  • A master student in Biochemistry and Molecular biology with experience in Education and Research. I am passionate about scientific research and passing my knowledge to others to help them learn about the latest in science by teaching, writing and volunteering in scientific events.
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