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May 29, 2015
Personalized medicine has led to the discovery of many different biomarkers that can be tied to particular disease states. These biomarkers can be incredibly useful in the development of new diagnostics and treatments that are not only more helpful to patients, but can also actually reduce harm in cases where diseases have been marked by unnecessary aggressive treatments due to lack of understanding. Preventing unnecessary treatments can save vast amounts of money and, more importantly, can improve the quality of life of patients who no longer have to endure unnecessary and unpleasant interventions.
A new prostate cancer screening method outlined in a study conducted by researchers at the University of Central Florida and published in Applied Materials & Interfaces uses biomarkers specific to prostate cancer to diagnose it as well as understand its degree of aggressiveness. By mixing a few drops of a patient's blood serum with gold nanoparticles and water, scientists observed a growing and clumping of the nanoparticles when the biomarkers were present. By analyzing the light scattered from the gold, the level of aggressiveness was measured. This represents a huge breakthrough in prostate cancer testing, given that the industry standard test – the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test – lacks sensitivity and often leads to overtreatment and difficult side effects and complications. The PSA test also cannot distinguish at all between different stages of severity. Furthermore, this new test costs less than $1 to produce.
Current Screening Methods Insufficient
According to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program at the National Cancer Institute, more than 14 percent of men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lives. In 2015 alone, the NCI estimates over 220,000 new cases.
Unsurprisingly, accurately detecting the stage of the disease has a major impact on survival rates. When caught before cancer cells spread to lymph nodes, prostate cancer cases have an 80 percent survival rate. However, regionally metastasized cases exhibit successful outcomes only 12 percent of the time, while more serious instances drop that figure to just 4 percent. An inexpensive, accurate, and widely available new test for prostate cancer could drastically improve these dwindling survival rates.
Great Leap Forward
Currently, the PSA test exhibits 20 percent sensitivity. Qun Huo, Ph.D., associate professor of nanoscience technology at the University of Central Florida and lead of author of the study, explained the leap forward accomplished through this new test.
"Two pilot studies conducted on blood serum samples collected at Florida Hospital and obtained from Prostate Center Biorepository Network revealed that the test has a 90-95 percent specificity and 50 percent sensitivity in detecting early stage prostate cancer, representing a significant improvement over the current PSA test."
While 50 percent sensitivity may not be ideal, it is definitely indicative of progress and researchers hope to improve on that number. What is truly outstanding is how cost-effective the test is. Huo told UCF Today that a small bottle of water and nanoparticles costs about $250, but it contains enough material to perform 2,500 tests.
"Because it is low-cost, we are hoping most people can have this test in their doctor's office. If we can catch this cancer in its early stages, the impact is going to be big," Huo told the source.
Prostate cancer is one of the most survivable forms of cancer, but clinicians must be able to detect it before it spreads throughout the body. Thanks to personalized medicine, this $1 screening test may become a routine part of men's checkups in the future.