Researchers at Macquarie University in Australia have created a new form of nanoparticles and associated imaging method to identify various disease biomarkers present in deep-tissue.

The new bio-imaging approach is expected to enable minimally invasive diagnosis.

Existing techniques that use specially designed nanoparticles to detect diseases are limited by identification of only one biomarker at a time.

“When tested in mice in a laboratory setting, the nanoparticles are reported to have identified various types of breast cancer tumours.”

Macquarie University ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) researcher Yiqing Lu said: “The tissue environment is extremely complex-full of light absorbing and scattering elements such as blood, muscle and cartilage.

“And introducing multiple nanoparticles to a site, operating at multiple wavelengths to detect multiple biomarkers, produces too much interference. It makes it extremely difficult to determine accurately if a range of disease biomarkers are present.”

To address this challenge, the researchers have engineered the new nanoparticles to emit light at the same frequency but for a set duration.

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The timed amount of light eliminates overlapping of wavelengths that interfere with the reading, thereby allowing high-contrast optical biomedical imaging to detect multiple disease biomarkers at one time.

When tested in mice in a laboratory setting, the nanoparticles are reported to have identified various types of breast cancer tumours.

Study joint-lead author and Fudan University professor Fan Zhang said: “We were able to successfully detect and identify key biomarkers for a number of different sub-types of breast cancer.

“This technique has the potential to provide a low-invasive method of determining if breast cancer is present, as well as the form of breast cancer, without the need to take tissue samples via biopsy.”

The researchers expect the new nanoparticles to facilitate the quantitative assessment of multiple disease biomarkers, along with early-stage screening and the potential use in integrated treatment.

They are planning to further develop the nanoparticles and explore any additional applications.