08 July 2009

Microchips for early cancer diagnosis

Nikolay Bovin: "Where oncology hides, microchips will show"
Interviewed by Evgenia Dorogova, "Living Systems"

One of the main tasks in the fight against cancer is the early diagnosis of a tumor. It is important to detect oncology when a neoplasm in the body cannot yet be probed or detected by X-ray. Even better – to predict the occurrence of the disease in advance. Human autoantibodies can help this. Microchips based on synthetic antigens are being developed by IBH RAS specialists. The prospects of these studies are described by the head of the Laboratory of Carbohydrate Chemistry of the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry named after M.M.Shemyakin and Yu.A.Ovchinnikov of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Doctor of Chemical Sciences, Professor Nikolai Vladimirovich Bovin.

How will your research be useful for medicine?– Diagnostics is the most realistically achievable direction of our laboratory's work.

The research is primarily aimed at oncology. We want to learn how to answer the questions: does a person have cancer or not, and if there is, then where exactly in the body it hides.

How can this be done?– We look at the level of antibodies to a certain group of carbohydrate antigens in the blood serum.

To do this, we chemically synthesized oligosaccharides typical of human cells, and they act as antigens, to be more precise, target molecules for detecting the corresponding antibodies in the blood. Humans have a huge repertoire of autoantibodies directed to their own tissues and cells. Antibodies know everything about the body – what is now, what was in the past, and, apparently, what will happen in the future. If a tumor appears, the antibodies will know everything about it, even if it is only a few millimeters in size. But this is the most important thing – to find cancer when the tumor is not physically determined in any way: neither by palpation, nor by X-ray, nor by tomography, by any other means.

And how can you predict cancer?– Antibodies largely perform a supervisory function.

Knowing everything about them, we can, in principle, say in advance what is the probability of a tumor in a person in 10 years, in 20 years. Antibodies make sure that the malignantly modified cell does not pass through the immune barrier. By assessing the level of antibodies, we can predict what the risk of cancer is. If the risk is high, we can advise a person to see a doctor regularly and be examined. That is, for example, if a man has a predisposition to prostate cancer, then he will have to go to a specialist several times a year and take tests.

As for early diagnosis, are there any concrete results already?– So far, the results are preliminary, but very impressive.

Antigen markers have been found for breast cancer, some types of lung cancer, ovarian cancer. Detailed tests are being carried out. We "blindly" do a blood serum analysis of a mixed group of sick and healthy people, and it successfully shows who is sick. Tests are conducted in the USA and in In Russia, at the Moscow Cancer Center. We plan to start considering other diseases as well. Another aspect is that we can predict the effectiveness of anti–cancer drugs in each specific case of the disease. Well, the application of all these results on a practical scale depends on whether we find investors, government or commercial support.

How will the analysis be carried out directly, and how much will it cost?

– There will be a biochip. On its surface we have more than 200 carbohydrates, each of them in two concentrations and with 6-8 repetitions. The cost of microchips, in principle, can be close to zero. For example, one milligram of carbohydrate that we synthesize is enough to make several million chips. The sensitivity is so high and the material consumption is so low that the cost of diagnosis can only be the work of doctors and laboratory technicians. The analysis itself will last only a few hours. That is, with the price tending to zero, the medical significance of the chip tends to infinity.

Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru08.07.2009

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