Over the past several years, Bhatia has been developing cancer diagnostics that work by generating synthetic biomarkers that can be easily detected in the urine. Most cancer cells express enzymes called proteases, which help them escape their original locations by cutting through proteins of the extracellular matrix. Bhatia’s cancer-detecting nanoparticles are coated with peptides that are cleaved by these proteases. When these particles encounter a tumor, the peptides are cleaved and excreted in the urine, where they can be easily detected. In animal models of lung cancer, these biomarkers can detect the presence of tumors early on; however, they don’t reveal the exact location of the tumor or whether the tumor has spread beyond its organ of origin.
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