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Implantable Optical Nanosensor Could Improve Detection of Ovarian Cancer

Device implanted into the abdomen detects biomarker for ovarian cancer in mice.

Janelle Weaver, Contributor
Friday, April 27, 2018


Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images


Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. Although early detection could improve patient outcomes, many women with ovarian cancer experience no or mild symptoms until advanced stages of the disease. Moreover, clinically approved blood biomarkers, such as human epididymis protein 4, often abbreviated HE4, do not generally appear at detectable levels until advanced disease stages and do not improve overall patient survival.

In a study published April 18 in Science Advances, researchers addressed this problem by developing an HE4-detecting optical nanosensor that can be implanted close to disease sites. The device could be placed in or near the fallopian tube, ovary or uterine cavity, where HE4 concentrations are approximately 23 times greater than in the blood. The sensor consists of an anti-HE4 antibody immobilized on a near-infrared-emitting carbon nanotube complex. Binding of HE4 to the antibody induces a detectable shift in the nanotube emission wavelength.

The researchers surgically implanted the sensors in the abdomen of four different mouse models of ovarian cancer. An external fiber optic probe-based system placed 1 to 2 centimeters above the abdomen was used to noninvasively excite and acquire near-infrared emission from the implanted sensors. The device successfully detected HE4 in the mice and differentiated biomarker-producing ovarian cancer mouse models from biomarker-deficient mice.

Because the sensor is roughly the same size as an intrauterine device, it may be inserted into the uterine cavity of women in a similar manner, or in the fallopian tubes endoscopically, and nanotube fluorescence could be probed endoscopically or through the body. In the future, the device might be used to detect disease onset or recurrence, or to monitor treatment response.