This tiny gold device makes cancer treatment safer

Scientists have developed a tiny new device that can monitor the safety and effectiveness of cancer treatment.

It measures the amount of methotrexate, a common medication, in the blood. Methotrexate works by blocking an enzyme that causes cancer cells to grow but in large doses it can be toxic, killing off healthy cells as well. That means doctors need to regularly check that patients aren’t absorbing too much. Researchers Jean-François Masson and Joelle Pelletier from the University of Montreal say that their device can determine how much of the drug is in a patient’s bloodstream – for a tenth of the cost of existing hospital procedures.

A small sample of blood is taken from the patient and added to the device. Gold nanoparticles on its surface then naturally try to block the same enzyme that methotrexate blocks, changing colour depending on how much of the drug is in the blood. The patient’s dosage can then be reduced or increased as appropriate.

The researchers found that the measurements they took from their tiny instrument were as accurate as those taken from traditional testing equipment at a local hospital. Plus, they had results within a minute compared to 30 minutes in the hospital, and estimate that the device will cost around $10,000, while current machines’ cost is closer to $100,000.

Another benefit is that it doesn’t require specialist training to use, so Masson and Pelletier hope that one day it will become commonplace in hospitals and even GP’s surgeries, making treatment for cancer (and other conditions where the drug is sometimes used, like rheumatoid arthritis) as safe as possible.

Image credit: Université de Montréal.

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