Breast cancer biomarkers identified more quickly with liquid biopsy

Breast cancer biomarkers identified more quickly with liquid biopsy

A Fraunhofer team has developed a sensitive method based on nanoparticles for detecting biomolecular traces of breast cancer in the bloodstream in real-time. The approach could give a boost to the field of liquid biopsy.

How does the liquid biopsy detect tumour cells more quickly?

When a tumor forms in the body, a tiny number of cancer cells or their products such as proteins and DNA, enter the bloodstream. There are various advantages to detecting these biomolecular traces and cells circulating in this bodily fluid compared to performing a classical biopsy of tumor tissue. Most importantly, the liquid biopsy approach is less invasive, since only a small amount of the patient’s blood needs to be drawn. Furthermore, the findings are available within a matter of hours, meaning that the process can be adapted based upon current information about the status of the patient at any given time during their treatment.

“We expect that with liquid biopsy, medical staff would be able to determine whether a treatment is successful, as well as find early-stage breast cancers more quickly and in a gentler manner, which is of great advantage to the patient,” explains nanomaterials expert Neus Feliu Torres.

Dr Neus Feliu Torres leads a working group at the Fraunhofer Center for Applied Nanotechnology CAN in Hamburg. Born in Spain, she received her doctorate from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. © Neus Feliu Torres
Dr Neus Feliu Torres leads a working group at the Fraunhofer Center for Applied Nanotechnology CAN in Hamburg. Born in Spain, she received her doctorate from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. © Neus Feliu Torres

Who is the Fraunhofer expert Neus Feliu Torres?

Since 2020, Feliu Torres has been leading the working group “Nanocellular Interactions” at the Center for Applied Nanotechnology (CAN), a research division of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research (IAP) in Hamburg. With her team, she combines liquid biopsy with nanotechnology to improve the sensitivity and specificity of this emerging diagnostic approach.

How does Feliu Torres’ project improve cancer diagnostics in the long term?

In the LIBIMEDOTS project the team is working together with researchers at the University of Hamburg and the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) (with liquid biopsy pioneer Klaus Pantel on board) and the Spanish University Rovira i Virgili. The purpose of this collaboration is to work on detecting, gathering, and examining biomarkers of breast cancer in the bloodstream. They proceed as follows:

  • The Fraunhofer researchers use magnetic nanoparticles that help to detect and target the tumor cells. They can then dock onto the cancerous cells or their cell products and be concentrated in a magnetic field, thus allowing the tumor cells to be closely examined. The second step of the procedure consists of decorating those cells with a wide range of fluorescent particles that are also specialized to target specific cell types.
  • The fluorescence and its patterns can then be measured and analyzed to detect what type and degree of cancer the patient has.

Liquid biopsy has been studied for years now and many labs are making progress in the cancer field. However, the FDA-approved method currently on the market is using only a limited amount of one or two fluorophore markers. “What sets our project apart is that we are testing a wide range of different kinds of fluorescent particles. This allows for multiplexing, meaning that different fluorescence signals can be detected simultaneously,” says Feliu Torres.

Liquid Biopsy Hotspot

The Life Science Nord Cluster, and here in particular the Hamburg region, represents a highly active region in the area of liquid biopsy approaches for cancer diagnostics. A recent publication of the biotechnology sector association BIO Deutschland identifies the folllowing players with important research and development activities in the field:

  • Asklepios Tumorzentrum Hamburg
  • Fraunhofer IAP/CAN
  • Indivumed Therapeutics
  • Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE)

More information:
www.biodeutschland.org

Nanoparticles as signal enhancer

She points out that the use of nanoparticles is especially valuable for signal enhancement. The team is designing a variety of distinct particles with the capability to bind with specific types of tumor. This will improve the sensitivity, specificity, and speed of the detection process, as well as making it more cost-effective.

Although focusing on the detection of breast and prostate cancer, the project is aiming to expand their particles’ abilities to detecting any cancer that releases biomarkers into the blood stream. But cancer doesn’t have to be the limit, says Feliu Torres. “Our particles could be widely used in medicine, as a diagnostic system, but also as a drug delivery agent,” the bionanotechnologist says. She hopes to find more collaboration partners from the industry. “Our particles can be of service in many more nanomedical applications.”

Text: Margarita Milidakis

Featured image: © Fraunhofer IAP

Schlagworte:

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