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Microbubbles seek out prostate cancer

Painful and costly biopsies conducted on prostate cancer sufferers can result in error because the whole organ is not examined.


The EU-funded 'A new bio-sensor concept for medical diagnosis: targeted micro-bubbles and remote ultrasound transduction' (Tamirut) project addressed the problem by bringing together experts from a range of scientific and technological fields to develop a new type of biosensor. Project partners injected a microbubble inside the body to bind with the desired target cells, which enabled medical professionals to visualise tiny quantities of diseased tissue in patients. The position of the microbubble was traced using medical ultrasound, a safe technology normally used for visualising foetuses in the womb. Microbubbles are smaller than one millimetre in diameter but larger than one micron and can be distinguished from surrounding tissue by their response to ultrasound waves. The microbubble is encapsulated in a solid shell made from protein or a lipid in order to prevent it from dissolving. Scientists from the Tamirut consortium developed a microbubble that had a bioconjugate ligand attached to the shell, enabling it to adhere to target cells. Ultrasound equipment was used to detect the microbubble when it was attached to target cells, thereby revealing the presence of early-stage tumours. By localising tumours in their first stages of development, doctors were able to begin treating them sooner, thus increasing the patient's chance of survival. The Tamirut bio-sensor also enabled the prostate to be examined as a whole, with no area excluded. This is a significant improvement on the conventional method where only the parts from where biopsy specimens were extracted could be considered. As a result, the new sensor overcomes the problem of small cancers being missed from an examination. A targeted microbubble biosensor offers a simple, efficient, painless and cost-effective method of monitoring for prostate cancer, thereby improving the quality of life of sufferers.

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