Award for UCL Scientists

They plan to use magnetic nanoparticles and an extremely sensitive magnetometer called the “HistoMag” to detect cancerous cells in samples of breast tissue. “Each year 35,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK and the testing programme is a massive undertaking,” says Professor Quentin Pankhurst of the London Centre for Nanotechnology and the UCL Department of Physics & Astronomy. “Until now, pathologists had to stain tissue samples with brown dyes to help them determine whether they were normal or cancerous. In terms of streamlining the process, the main problem is that all of the results are open to interpretation and each test has to be individually checked by a specialist.

“At UCL we’ve been working in the relatively new area of biomagnetics to develop a technique which provides more quantitative and reliable results, whilst also enabling pathologists to identify abnormal tissue sections much more quickly.

“Cancerous cells have a protein on their surface called HER2. We use a solution of HER2 antibodies, tagged with magnetic nanoparticles, to stain the tissue sample. Using the HistoMag we can detect the quantity of tagged antibodies which attach themselves to the HER2 protein, which in turn provides us with an accurate picture of the spread of cancerous cells.”

By automating the process through which cancerous cells are detected and quantified, HistoMag will not only ease the pressure on pathologists but also help to identify the 15 to 30 per cent of patients who are likely to benefit from being treated with the drug Herceptin.

MEDICA.de; Source: University College London