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Chemical "Nose" Knows If We Have Cancer and Whether it's Metastatic

por Lynn Shapiro, Writer | July 01, 2009

By adding PPE bound with gold nanoparticles to human cells incubating in wells on a culture plate, the researchers induce a response called "competitive binding." Cell surfaces bind the nanoparticles, displacing the PPE from the surface. This turns on PPE's fluorescent switch. Cells are then identified from the patterns generated by different particle-PPE systems.

Rotello says the chemical nose approach is so named because it works like a human nose, which is arrayed with hundreds of very selective chemical receptors. These bind with thousands of different chemicals in the air, some more strongly than others, in the endless combination we encounter. The receptors report instantly to the brain, which recognizes patterns such as, for example, "French fries," or it creates a new smell pattern.

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Chemical receptors in the nose plus the brain's pattern recognition skills together are incredibly sensitive at detecting subtly different combinations, Rotello notes. We routinely detect the presence of tiny numbers of bacteria in meat that's going bad, for instance. Like a human nose, the chemical version being developed for use in cancer also remembers patterns experienced, even if only once, and creates a new one when needed.

For the future, Rotello says further studies will be undertaken in an animal model to see if the chemical nose approach can identify cell status in real tissue. Also, more work is required to learn how to train the chemical nose's sensors to give more precise information to physicians who will be making judgment calls about patients' cancer treatment. But the future is promising, he adds. "We're getting complete identification now, and this can be improved by adding more and different nanoparticles. So far we've experimented with only three, and there are hundreds more we can make."

Source: University of Mass, Amherst

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