Bhatia and her colleagues developed their new test based on a technology they first reported last year for early detection of colorectal cancer. "We realized the same exact technology would work for blood clots," she says. "So we took the test we had developed before, which is an injectable nanoparticle, and made it a thrombin sensor."
The system consists of iron oxide nanoparticles, which the Food and Drug Administration has approved for human use, coated with peptides (short proteins) that are specialized to interact with thrombin. After being injected into mice, the nanoparticles travel throughout the body. When the particles encounter thrombin, the thrombin cleaves the peptides at a specific location, releasing fragments that are then excreted in the animals' urine.
Once the urine is collected, the protein fragments can be identified by treating the sample with antibodies specific to peptide tags included in the fragments. The researchers showed that the amount of these tags found in the urine is directly proportional to the level of blood clotting in the mice's lungs.
In the previous version of the system, reported last December in Nature Biotechnology, the researchers used mass spectrometry to distinguish the fragments by their mass. However, testing samples with antibodies is much simpler and cheaper, the researchers say.
Bhatia says she envisions two possible applications for this kind of test. One is to screen patients who come to the emergency room complaining of symptoms that might indicate a blood clot, allowing doctors to rapidly triage such patients and determine if more tests are needed.
"Right now they just don't know how to efficiently define who to do the more extensive workup on. It's one of those things that you can't afford to miss, so patients can get an unnecessarily expensive workup," Bhatia says.
|Contact: Andrew Carleen|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology