Detecting Breast Cancer and Osteoarthritis with Nanotechnology Made for Mars
A nanotechnology-based innovation at the University of Basel promises to revolutionize medical tissue diagnostics in areas such as breast cancer and osteoarthritis. Known as “ARTIDIS”, this technology builds on the exquisite nanomechanical sensitivity of the atomic force microscope (AFM) to detect and differentiate between the various stages of disease in soft human tissues — in a matter of minutes. Being at the frontier of science, medicine and technology, this work is the result of successful joint research between the Biozentrum, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute and the M.E. Mueller Institute of Structural Biology. With funding of more than half a million Swiss Francs being provided by the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI), the research team led by Prof. Dr. Roderick Lim at the Biozentrum in partnership with local Swiss AFM company Nanosurf aims to bring ARTIDIS from their lab bench to the hospital bedside.
Recent breakthroughs in nanobiological research
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer seen in women. Yet, conventional diagnostics often involve long waiting times that cause a patient anxiety and distress. Within the framework of a Project, more than 635'000.00 Swiss Francs have been provided to support the development of CTI ARTIDIS at the Biozentrum for the next 18 months. By customizing the speed and atomic-scale sensitivity of the AFM to fit the requirements of clinicians, ARTIDIS promises to cut waiting times down from days to minutes. Already in its early prototype stage, ARTIDIS can determine within a matter of hours, whether a breast tumor is benign or malignant. Perhaps more importantly, the real breakthrough of ARTIDIS is that tissue diagnostics is based on quantitative measurements and statistical analysis instead of qualitative histological characterization. According to PD Dr. med. Rosanna Zanetti Dällenbach, a close collaborator from the Department of Gynecology University Hospital Basel, "an AFM-based instrument suitable for clinics such as ARTIDIS has the potential to open a new field in the diagnostics of breast disease."
From breast cancer to arthritis
The applicability of ARTIDIS is not limited to the diagnostic investigation of breast disease. "In principle, a large number of different tissue (e.g. breast, cartilage, skin, retina, blood vessels, bladder etc.) disorders can be assessed with ARTIDIS", explains ARTIDIS project manager Marko Loparic. Loparic, who obtained a Ph.D. in Nanomedicine after being trained as an M.D. was instrumental in the very beginnings of ARTIDIS based on his research work, which used the AFM to investigate degenerative joint disease of cartilage in the knee, arthritis. In comparison to conventional methods, AFM has the potential to determine the onset of disease. For individuals with knee problems, the possibility of diagnosis with ARTIDIS in the early stages implies better treatment options with higher chances of healing.
With its ability to evaluate cartilage damage, it is also anticipated that ARTIDIS will become a standard toolkit in tissue engineering laboratories. In this way, "ARTIDIS represents an innovation that can help in developing advanced release criteria/quality controls for the clinical use of engineered cartilage, in order to determine in a non-destructive manner whether an in vitro generated tissue is structurally and mechanically suitable for implantation into patients" states Prof. Ivan Martin, a world renown expert in tissue engineering at the Department of Biomedicine and the Department of Surgery, University Hospital Basel.
Besides providing for a rapid diagnosis, ARTIDIS also simplifies the process of obtaining biopsies. Using conventional diagnostic methods, several biopsy samples are taken from the patient to be examined in a lab, whereas with ARTIDIS only one very small sample for analysis is needed. "The diagnostic data from the biopsy is compared to a large amount of data that we compile from other patients so that the results are quantitative and more scientifically objective", added Marija Plodinec, a postdoctoral research scientist in Lim's group.
From Mars into the hospital
The AFM measures atomic forces at the nanoscale and can thus analyze surfaces mechanically with superior resolution. Nanosurf AG, a leading Swiss AFM firm based in Liestal, powerfully demonstrated the precision of this technique by being the first to send the AFM into space as part of NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander Mission in 2008 to investigate the structure of Martian soil. By incorporating their space-age AFM technology into ARTIDIS, Lim's team and Nanosurf share the excitement of how this will revolutionize medical tissue diagnostics in a general sense. Hospitals and medical practitioners could use the analytical possibilities of ARTIDIS in the future to examine tissue samples in their clinic and be able to inform the patients of the test results directly. "The long term goal is to reduce the waiting period for the patient and optimize the quality of the results as well as to develop a diagnostic instrument, which per push of a button delivers the diagnosis and completely replaces lab work", concluded Lim. "The application of AFM in the field of diagnostic medicine is new and very promising. As Nanosurf is the leading manufacturer of user-friendly and robust AFM equipment, the integration of our AFM technology in a system for routine diagnostic work makes a lot of sense", states Robert Sum, Head of Marketing and Business Development of Nanosurf.
Contact: Communications, Heike Sacher