News Research

May 15, 2019 at 2:06 pm

Detecting Esophageal Cancer with Adhesive Molecules

Doug Goetz and Mahboubeh Noori stand in front of an endoscopic image of esophageal tissue.

By Ryan Flynn
NQPI editorial intern
Nanoscale and Quantum Phenomena Institute 2019 Spring Newsletter

Cancer of the esophagus typically carries a grim prognosis. According to the American Cancer Society, only about 20 percent of patients survive five years after diagnosis. Unfortunately, esophageal cancer goes mostly undetected until more severe stages of the disease are reached. If earlier detection were possible, patients’ survival rates could increase dramatically. A team of Ohio University researchers are working to help make earlier detection a reality.

Currently, detecting esophageal cancer requires an invasive endoscopy, meaning most individuals are not screened regularly. Although endoscopic methods may allow physicians to identify structural surface changes, these procedures do not reveal molecular details about the biochemistry of the cells.

NQPI member Doug Goetz, a professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, and doctoral chemical engineering student Mahboubeh Noori, recently reported in Integrative Biology that by using particles engineered with specific ligands (molecules that bind to other molecules), they can detect molecular changes that are unique to cancerous esophageal cells. Goetz and Noori’s work on this project was done in collaboration with Monica Burdick, an associate professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, David Drozek, associate professor of Specialty Medicine in the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, former chemical engineering doctoral student Grady Carlson and undergraduate chemical engineering major Evan Streator.

The team developed an adhesion assay (test) to detect cancer cells in vitro with the ligand-conjugated particles. The researchers infused the bioengineered particles over the surface of cancer and normal cells in a Petri dish via an endoscope. Next, they allowed the particles to incubate with the cells, applied a rinse to remove unbound particles, and examined the state of both types of cells. They observed that the engineered particles remained bound to the cancer cells but not to normal cells.

“They (the bioengineered particles) stick to the cancer cell surface, through the ligand-receptor interaction,” Goetz said. He stated that the molecular mechanism by which the particles stick is similar to Velcro hooks binding to a looped fabric.

In a clinical application, endoscopes would douse the interior of a patient’s esophagus with the bioengineered particles. Ideally, the particles would then bind exclusively to cancerous tissue. If cancer were present, an alarming number of ligand-bound particles would remain on the tissue revealing the cancerous tissue to a clinician.

Goetz said he hopes that one day this research will lead to highly sophisticated future applications. For example, he foresees the possibility of a patient swallowing a pill carrying ligand-conjugated particles that can be detected via an app on the patient’s smartphone. In this future scenario, patients could detect esophageal cancer on their smartphones. Currently, the group’s research is providing a path for the development of such technology.


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