Johns Hopkins researchers have created a synthetic protein that, when activated by ultraviolet light, can guide doctors to places within the body where cancer, arthritis and other serious medical disorders can be detected.
The technique could lead to a new type of diagnostic imaging technology and may someday serve as a way to move medications to parts of the body where signs of disease have been found. In a study published in the Aug. 27-31 Online Early Edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers reported success in using the synthetic protein in mouse models to locate prostate and pancreatic cancers, as well as to detect abnormal bone growth activity associated with Marfan syndrome.
The synthetic protein developed by the Johns Hopkins team does not zero in directly on the diseased cells. Instead, it binds to nearby collagen that has been degraded by various health disorders. Collagen, the body's most abundant protein, provides structure and creates a sturdy framework upon which cells build nerves, bone and skin. Some buildup and degradation of collagen is normal, but disease cells such as cancer can send out enzymes that break down collagen at an accelerated pace. It is this excessive damage, caused by disease, that the new synthetic protein can detect, the researchers said.
"These disease cells are like burglars who break into a house and do lots of damage but who are not there when the police arrive," said S. Michael Yu, a faculty member in the Whiting School of Engineering's Department of Materials Science and Engineering. "Instead of looking for the burglars, our synthetic protein is reacting to evidence left at the scene of the crime," said Yu, who was principal investigator in the study.
A key collaborator was Martin Pomper, a School of Medicine professor of radiology and co-principal investigator of the Johns Hopkins Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence. Pomper and
|Contact: Phil Sneiderman|
Johns Hopkins University