Prostate cancer is one of the most deadly cancers for men, but current diagnosis methods using antibodies are not completely reliable. A new sensor chip could be the solution to the problem, however, making prostate cancer diagnosis more efficient and reliable according to the results of a recent study.

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Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in American men, behind skin cancer.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Birmingham in the UK and is published in Chemical Science. Its findings demonstrate that the new technology could reduce the number of false readings that occur with traditional diagnosis methods.

Study author Prof. Paula Mendes states that there are two key benefits to the new sensor chip:

“Crucially for the patient, it gives a much more accurate reading and reduces the number of false-positive results. Furthermore, our technology is simple to produce and store, so could feasibly be kept on the shelf of a doctors’ surgery anywhere in the world. It can also be recycled for multiple uses without losing accuracy.”

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men, with around 1 in 38 dying as a result of the disease. They estimate that around 220,800 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in the US over the course of 2015.

Prostate cancer is normally diagnosed by tests relying on antibodies that are expensive to make and vulnerable to degeneration brought on by environmental changes. Crucially, however, they are known to give false-positive readings at a high rate.

The researchers believe that their new sensor chip could improve prostate cancer diagnosis by avoiding these limitations.

Created by a team of chemical engineers and chemists, the sensor chip works by identifying specific proteins bonded to carbohydrate chains known as glycoprotein molecules. These molecules perform many roles in different functions of the body, including the immune response.

Due to their role in the immune response, glycoprotein molecules are frequently used by scientists as biomarkers for diseases, including prostate cancer. Previously, techniques for detecting glycoproteins have focused on the protein of the molecule. However, this part of the molecule does not always change when the body is affected by disease.

Instead, the new chip is designed to focus on the carbohydrate part of the molecule that, in contrast, are subtly different in healthy and diseased patients.

“Biomarkers such as glycoproteins are essential in diagnostics as they do not rely on symptoms perceived by the patient, which can be ambiguous or may not appear immediately,” explains Prof. Mendes.

“However, the changes in the biomarkers can be incredibly small and specific and so we need technology that can discriminate between these subtle differences – where antibodies are not able to.”

The new sensor chip has nano-cavities on its surface that fit the shape of the specific glycoprotein associated with prostate cancer. These nano-cavities are made with a cast, constructed by binding a custom-designed molecule to both a gold surface and the prostate cancer glycoprotein.

The end of the custom-designed molecule that reacts with the glycoprotein contains a boron group. When these boron bonds are broken, a perfect cast is left behind.

Prof. Mendes explains further:

It is essentially a lock, and the only key that will fit is the specific prostate cancer glycoprotein that we’re looking for. Other glycoproteins might be the right size, but they won’t be able to bind to the very specific arrangement of boron groups.”

The team hope that further investment and collaboration with commercial partners could lead to their novel technology becoming accessible for all and adapted for use in the treatment of other conditions.

“We believe that this could be applicable to other diagnostic challenges,” states co-author Dr. John Fossey. “Lots of diseases produce specific glycoproteins, so there are a number of possible avenues to improve the accuracy of our diagnoses.”

As with any cancer, reliable and quick diagnosis is vital for ensuring the best possible outcome for patients. This new technology could prove to be a difference maker not only in the treatment of prostate cancer but other dangerous diseases as well.

Previously, Medical News Today reported on a study conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan in which a previously unidentified biomarker of prostate cancer was discovered that could potentially affect the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.