Researchers from the University of Bath have developed a new method to detect microRNAs in blood serum, leading to a new class of biosensors for early cancer diagnosis and prognosis. There is an increasing consensus that microRNAs in blood can be used as powerful indicators of the presence of cancer as well as the stage of the disease, enabling better management and treatment of different types of cancer. However, given the low levels of microRNAs present in blood, their use as cancer biomarkers requires the development of simple and effective analytical methods.
The group of Dr Pedro Estrela from the Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering, together with researchers from Bath's Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology and from the University of São Paulo, Brazil developed a highly sensitive electrochemical platform for the detection of microRNAs. The platform uses synthetic biomolecules called peptide nucleic acids to capture the microRNAs and gold nanoparticles to induce measurable electrical capacitance changes. The sensors allow the detection of minute levels of microRNAs in blood serum, down to the ranges present in patients with prostate cancer.
The work, published in the journal Scientific Reports from the Nature Publishing Group, was mainly funded by the Marie Curie Initial Training Network PROSENSE led by the University of Bath. The collaboration with microRNA experts from the Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology was made possible through seedcorn funding from the Cancer Research at Bath (CR@B) network, while the collaboration with the University of São Paulo was partly funded by FAPESP and the University of Bath through the SPRINT programme.