That’s gold! Griffith finds cheap way to detect cancer

Griffith University scientists have developed a new class of nanomaterials that could detect early cancer.

The inexpensive, non-invasive diagnostic tool can deliver sensitive and specific results that are easily and quickly interpreted with less reliance on laboratory equipment.

Working with the team from the University of Wollongong (UOW), the researchers have developed a new class of enzyme-like nanovehicles using gold-loaded nanoporous iron oxide nanocubes for sensing body fluid which, despite containing gold nanoparticles, are inexpensive to make.

The researchers will keep refining the technology with the aim of developing a portable diagnostic device for less than $5.

Early diagnosis of cancer leads to more effective and cheaper treatment, and the majority of cancers can be treated successfully if they are detected at their earliest stages.

However, most current diagnostic methods use expensive biomaterials and rely on sophisticated instrumentation, limiting their use in developing countries and other resource-poor settings.

The team’s two-step diagnostic method uses the gold-loaded nanoporous iron oxide nanocubes for magnetically isolating the cancer biomarkers, proteins, DNA or RNA in serum and tissue samples collected from cancer patients.

A simple and inexpensive non-invasive sensing device is then used to provide a highly accurate result to patient in a short time for early diagnosis of cancer. The test uses a very tiny amount of clinical samples – typically five microlitres – that change colour if the test is positive.

The test has already proved to be accurate in detecting concerning results in clinical samples.

“Naked-eye observation can be used as first-pass screening test (yes/no answer) for the presence of a cancer biomarker without the need to send samples to the centralised laboratory, and once we get the positive result, we can further confirm and quantify the level of biomarkers present in the samples by portable UV-visible spectrophotometry or disposable screen printed electrode-based electrochemical readouts,” said lead author Dr Muhammad J. A. Shiddiky from Queensland Micro- and Nanotechnology Centre (QMNC), Griffith University.

The other researchers from Griffith University are Professor Nam-Trung Nguyen and PhD students Sharad Yadav as well as Md Nazmul Islam.

The UOW members of the team are Professor Yusuke Yamauchi, Dr Md. Shahriar Hossain and Shunsuke Tanaka from the Australian Institute for Innovative Materials (AIIM), Professor Gursel Alici from the School of Mechanical, Materials, Mechatronics and Biomedical Engineering.

Mostafa Kamal Masud, who is taking his PhD through AIIM and is also a Research Associate at Griffith University’s QMNC, played a crucial role in bringing the researchers from the two universities together.

Professor Yamauchi and Dr Hossain said “Now we are trying to test the various types of functional nanoporous iron oxides with different metal loading employing simpler strategies to enable industry-scale productions.”

The team recently published papers on different aspects of its work in three journals: the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Nanoscale, the American Chemical Society journal Analytical Chemistry and the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Chemical Communications.

Given that this nanoparticle based potential device can be manufactured around the world, the group is now looking for industry partners to collaborate on the project.