The chances of surviving cancer are increased if onset can be detected at an early stage. One approach to cancer detection is to look for specific peptides (small protein fragments) released by cancer cells. In this research project, Dr. Reiner of Virginia Commonwealth University aims to develop a rapid and low-cost method for detecting cancer-marking peptides in early cancer screening. The project provides opportunities to engage undergraduate and graduate students in biosensing research. It also introduces biosensing concepts to students from a diverse range of backgrounds in grades 5-12.
The new approach to cancer-specific peptide detection is based on nanopore sensing of structural fluctuation kinetics of metallic nanoparticles. The exchange of peptides in solution with the thiolate- or amine-ligands on the nanometer-sized particles leads to detectable changes in the size and shape of the particles. These changes can be monitored by the nanopore-based resistive pulse technique and used to infer the identity of the various peptides. This project explores the possibility of developing a ligand-exchange based peptide sensor by achieving the following specific aims: 1) characterize thiolate- and amine-capped metallic clusters in a nanopore environment and find the clusters that are most amenable to peptide exchange; 2) perform exchange measurements on a variety of cysteine- and lysine-containing peptides to establish relationships between the physical characteristics of the peptides and the corresponding nanopore current fluctuations; and 3) perform exchange measurements with a collection of cancer-marking peptides to establish efficacy of the technique and set limits on the size and sequence of peptides that are detectable.
This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.