A New Way to Find and Treat Cancer

by Dana Demas

A team of researchers at MIT has designed particles that could help diagnose and treat cancer with greater precision.

The tiny particles quickly detect a type of genetic material, called microRNA. These molecules turn genes on or off inside a cell

Each type of cancer has its own microRNA signature.

In the past, detecting RNA has been a time-consuming process. With the new, highly sensitive microarray, the particles are mixed with a blood sample. They bind to the microRNA and reveal  a pattern – what researchers call a chemical “barcode.”  

This “barcode” could help doctors screen for specific cancer risk and develop highly individualized treatment plans. MicroRNA also plays a role in diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, HIV and cardiovascular disease.

Lead researcher Patrick Doyle plans to develop the technology for commercial use.