Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical
Center have developed a new technology to detect disease biomarkers in the form
of nucleic acids, the building blocks of all living organisms.
proof-of-concept study is currently published online in the journal Nano Letters.
envision this as a potential first-line, noninvasive diagnostic to detect
anything from cancer to the Ebola virus,” said Adam R. Hall, Ph.D., assistant
professor of biomedical engineering at Wake Forest Baptist and lead author of
the study. “Although we are certainly at the early stages of the technology,
eventually we could perform the test using a few drops of blood from a simple
acids consist of chains or sequences of bases stretching from just a few to
millions of elements long. The exact order in which these bases are found, even
over short distances, is strongly tied to their functions, and therefore can be
used as direct indicators of what is going on inside cells and tissue. For
example, one family of these nucleic acids known as microRNAs are only about 20
bases long, but can signal a wide range of diseases, including cancer.
have studied microRNA biomarkers for years, but one problem has been accurate
detection because they are so short, many technologies have real difficulty
identifying them,” Hall said.
the new technique, nanotechnology is used to determine whether a specific
target nucleic acid sequence
exists within a mixture, and to quantify it if it does through a simple
electronic signature. “If the sequence you are looking for is there, it forms a
double helix with a probe we provide and you see a clear signal. If the
sequence isn’t there, then there isn’t any signal,” Hall said. “By simply
counting the number of signals, you can determine how much of the target is
this study, the team first demonstrated that the technology could effectively
identify a specific sequence among a background of competing nucleic acids, and
then applied their technique to one particular microRNA (mi-R155) known to
indicate lung cancer in humans. They showed that the approach could resolve the
minute amount of microRNAs that can be found in patients. Next steps will
involve expanding the technology to study clinical samples of blood, tissue or
holds a provisional patent on this technology.
for the study was provided by NIH grant 1R21CA193067; The Dr. Arthur and Bonnie
Ennis Foundation; and the 3M Non-tenured Faculty Award program.
include: Osama K. Zahid, B.S., and Fanny Wang, B.S., of Wake Forest Baptist;
Jan A. Ruzicka, Ph.D., and Ethan W. Taylor, Ph.D. of the University of North
Carolina at Greensboro.