Researchers at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University attract attention with their unique assay that detects cancers of the tongue and the larynx

Researchers in Israel developed a non-invasive oral test for cancers of the tongue and larynx that uses gold nanoparticles and antibodies to “paint” cancer cells. An imaging tool then allows physicians to identify any tumor cells that may be present.

This demonstration of how the combination of gold nanoparticles and antibodies can detect cancer may form the basis for a new approach that enables in vitro diagnostics manufacturers and pathologists to develop medical laboratory tests that can non-invasively identify different types of cancers.

This nanotechnology-based cancer diagnostic method was created by scientists at Bar-Ilan University (BIU) Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv District of Israel. Researchers conducted successful tests of this technology on animals and “recently proved itself during its first tests on humans,” according to a news story in the Israeli daily Haaretz.

The development has reportedly “aroused interest” in the United Kingdom’s scientific community. And more research is planned for next year with scientists at King’s College London.

Optical Cancer Diagnostic Method is Radiation-Free and Non-Invasive

Dror Fixler, Ph.D., is a physicist who led the project at the Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials and Professor at BIU. He also heads BIU’s Advanced Light Microscopy Laboratory.

Fixler’s research team created an optical, non-invasive and radiation-free test aimed at detection of cancer. In clinical trials on humans, the method has detected cancer of the tongue and larynx. “The procedure involves patients rinsing their mouth with a solution comprising gold nanoparticles and cancer-seeking bodies,” reported a story on his research aired by i24News.

After the patient gargles, the nanoparticles essentially paint the cancer cells. Then the area is scanned with a tool that aids the physician’s view of the results on a computer screen, the Haaretz story explained.

Gold nanoparticles are agents that enable molecular imaging. In conjunction with cancer-seeking antibodies, they can directly and effectively target tumors, the 124News story explained.

“Nanoparticles are actually tiny robots that run in our bloodstream. When I look at them in a molecular of a cancer antibody, they are sticking to the cancer cells, and I can identify them from outside the body without any need for an MRI or CT,” Fixler told the Haaretz report.

Clinical Trials on Humans Supplement Biopsies 

In clinical trials involving this new procedure, cancer diagnoses were in harmony with biopsy findings. The trials involved humans with larynx and tongue cancers. They were conducted at Sheba Medical Center and School of Dental Medicine at Tel Aviv University.

“It’s not considered a scientific or medical gold standard yet, because we compare the results that we receive with the results of the patient’s biopsy. But we’ve had a success rate of more than 90%,” stated Fixler in the Haaretz story.

Pictured above is Professor Dror Fixler, Ph.D., a physicist who heads the Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials and Professor at Bar-Ilan University. He was recently awarded the Lord Turnberg Fellowship by the Academy of Medical Sciences in London for his “groundbreaking research on optical properties of plasmonic nanoparticles and biomedical applications.” (Photo copyright by Bar-Ilan University.)

Pictured above is Professor Dror Fixler, Ph.D., a physicist who heads the Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials and Professor at Bar-Ilan University. He was recently awarded the Daniel Turnberg Fellowship by the Academy of Medical Sciences in London for his “groundbreaking research on optical properties of plasmonic nanoparticles and biomedical applications.” (Photo copyright by Bar-Ilan University.)

New Method Combines Two Different Techniques

The Israeli physicist reportedly blended two techniques, each of which has been around for years, into a new recipe for cancer diagnosis. Fixler combined diffuse reflection with nanoparticles.

He was also clever in how the new assay was developed. Fixler’s team changed the shape of gold nanoparticles from conventional spheres to rods. “The rod shape changed the length of the wave that the particles reflected and enabled the particles to penetrate more deeply into the tissue,” he explained in the Haaretz article.

Fixler’s work in nanotechnology has progressed over at least five years. Last year, he published a paper in the Journal of Biomedical Optics about subcutaneous gold nanorods detection with diffusion reflection measurement.

“The ability to quantitatively and noninvasively detect nanoparticles nearby the skin surface has important implications on their development as in vivo cancer diagnostic tool. The diffusion reflection method is a simple, noninvasive imaging technique which has been proven useful for the investigation of the optical parameters of the tissue,” Fixler and his co-author wrote in the Journal of Biomedical Optics.

Nanotechnology is a team sport. It involves chemistry, biochemistry, physics and materials science, according to an article published in Materials Science and Engineering. This was true at BIU, where researchers in biology, chemistry and physics came together.

Fixler and his research team have demonstrated that gold nanoparticles have value in diagnostic tests. Their method offers a new approach to developing assays that can detect cancer earlier and more accurately. When combined with pathologists’ interpretation and clinical support, this technology could eventually contribute to a faster detection of cancer and start of treatment.

—By Donna Marie Pocius

Related Content:

Israeli Physicist Uses Gold to Help Detect Cancer Early

Israeli Scientist Uses Gold to Boost Cancer Diagnostics

Subcutaneous Gold Nanorods Detection with Diffusion Reflection Measurement

Nanoparticles for Improving Cancer Diagnosis