Skip to content

The University of Fribourg unveils bioinspired nanosensors for early detection of cancer

Life sciences

18 January 2023

Scientists from the University of Fribourg have developed bioinspired nanosensors for rapid, sensitive, and specific detection of cancer-derived biomarkers, potentially leading to a new generation of blood-based tests for early cancer detection and improved survival rates.

Early detection of cancer is crucial for successful treatment and a better chance of recovery. However, detecting cancer in its early stages can be difficult because of the biology of the disease and the limitations of current technology. One promising approach is to look for biomarkers, like DNA and small RNA molecules, that are specific to cancer cells. However, currently, measuring these biomarkers is difficult and costly, requiring special equipment and labs.

DNA is the molecule that carries genetic information in our cells, but it can also be used to create tiny, precise structures with specific functions. This process is called DNA origami, and it’s similar to the Japanese art of paper folding. Researchers at the University of Fribourg are using this technique to create DNA nanosensors that can detect cancer biomarkers, like DNA and small RNA molecules, with high accuracy and sensitivity. Two teams, led by Professor Curzio Rüegg (medicine) and Professor Guillermo Acuna (physics), are working together on this project as part of the NCCR program in bioinspired materials.

A new generation of biosensors

Ivana Domljanovic, a PhD student at the University of Fribourg, created a DNA origami biosensor in the shape of a book that can detect specific small RNAs (miRNA) related to breast cancer. It produces a strong fluorescent signal when the miRNA is present and can detect two different miRNA within ten minutes at a very low cost. This research was recently published in the journal Nanoscale.

Dr. Samet Kocabey, a senior assistant and Marie Curie-Sklodowska Fellow, developed a DNA origami platform that can detect up to four different miRNAs. This platform uses a geometric barcoding system and the super-resolution microscopy technique called DNA-PAINT (Point Accumulation for Imaging in Nanoscale Topography) for detection. This method is highly sensitive, able to detect miRNA at very low levels, and can specifically detect single-base changes in the miRNA. This research was recently published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

The results of these projects have important implications for future research. They provide a foundation for creating more advanced sensors that can detect many different types of nucleic acids at once (multiplexing), or detect changes in DNA or RNA molecules (mRNA). This can also lead to the development of faster, safer, simpler, and more affordable diagnostic tests for cancer. The ultimate goal of these projects is to improve the way cancer is diagnosed and the care of patients with cancer.