Nanosensors and the Internet of Things (IoT)

Hunting breast cancer with gold

Detecting cancer can be complicated. Conventional methods require samples of hundreds of cells and can’t provide details on how cancer genes are expressed in individual cells.

But Joseph Irudayaraj, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering and deputy director of the Bindley Bioscience Center, and Kyuwan Lee, a former graduate student, have found a solution, at least for breast cancer detection. Tagging tiny particles of gold — more than 1,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair — with “tails” of synthetic DNA, they’ve shown how to measure BRCA1 mRNA splice variants in live cells.

BRCA1 is an oncogene, a gene that can transform a healthy cell into a cancerous one. The number of BRCA1 mRNA splice variants in a cell can indicate the presence and stage of cancer.

When released into a cell, the gold nanoparticles link up on either side of these mRNA splice variants, forming a dimer configuration. Scattering light into the cell makes the configurations twinkle red

while free-floating gold nanoparticles shine green. The technique allows BRCA1 mRNA splice variants to be counted, presenting a snapshot of cancer in a single, living cell.

“This is a simple yet elegant technique,” says Irudayaraj. “With this method, we are basically able to count the needles in a haystack.”

- Natalie van Hoose, Purdue News Service

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