Researchers from the University of Houston and the University of Pennsylvania are collaborating to bring to the doctor’s office a new biosensor for detecting the recurrence of prostate cancer.

“Such tests exist in clinical laboratories, but there remains a critical need for inexpensive, versatile, and high-sensitivity diagnostic platforms that can bring the performance to the point of care or doctor’s office,” says Dmitri Litvinov, PhD, principal investigator and professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston. The work is funded by a $399,988 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The population that would immediately benefit from such a point-of-care test are prostate cancer patients who have undergone radical prostatectomy but have positive surgical margins, with cancer cells detected at the edge of the removed tissue. Such patients are at high risk for recurrence, and long-term ultrasensitive monitoring of their prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels is required.

“An effective point-of-care PSA biosensor would simplify postsurgery testing, improve patient compliance, and alleviate anxiety to help improve long-term patient outcomes,” says Litvinov.

The proposed biosensor platform will be based on an ultrahigh sensitivity magnetic nanoparticles detector and will look similar to a home pregnancy test with an electronic readout. As a bonus for healthcare providers and patients alike, it’s expected to cost under $3 per test.

Like the common pregnancy test stick, the sensor is a lateral-flow assay that detects the presence of condition-specific biomolecules using appropriately designed biochemistry to trap the biomarkers. Unlike the pregnancy test, which uses the color change of a test line as a readout, the new tool will use ultrasensitive sensing of magnetic nanoparticles trapped in the test line to detect trace amounts of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in a patient’s blood.

“A pregnancy test is basically a ‘yes or no’ test,” says Litvinov. “In our test, not only can we detect PSA at exceptionally small concentrations, but we can also quantify how much PSA is present.”

Because the tool will provide immediate information and be easily accessible, Litvinov believes it will provide early and affordable detection of disease recurrence. Timely identification of the appropriate treatment options can improve long-term patient outcomes. “Our technology has potential to help improve survival rates with more accessible, affordable, and easier testing,” he says.

Litvinov’s team includes coprincipal investigator Richard Willson, PhD, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Houston, and Ping Wang, PhD, DABCC, FAACC, associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

For more information, visit the University of Houston.

Featured image: PC-3 human prostate cancer cells, stained with Coomassie blue, under differential interference contrast microscopy. Microphotograph © Heiti Paves courtesy Dreamstime (ID 71915237).