23 July 2010
A hydrogel capsule seeks out prostate cancer and releases its contents directly into diseased cells.
Prostate cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in men but tracking the progress of the disease is often difficult. A typical diagnosis relies on a blood test for a specific protein called PSA (prostate-specific antigen) in blood, but there is some controversy over the accuracy of these tests, so a biopsy is usually required as well.
Now Itaru Hamachi and colleagues at Kyoto University, in Japan, have developed a supramolecular hydrogel that could provide a more accurate way of detecting cancer in prostate glands. The mechanically tough hydrogel made using a glycolipid mimic forms a stable capsule in both aqueous and cellular media. PSA is small enough to diffuse into the hydrogel where it cleaves a prostate cancer targeting compound and a fluorescent biomarker that is co-assembled in the hydrogel, allowing imaging of both PSA activity and prostate cancer cells.
Jan van Esch, an expert in supramolecular gels at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands comments, 'this system is a very ingenious application of self-assembling hydrogels making use of the macroporous structure and favourable mechanical properties, and I am looking forward to seeing the concept extended to other malignant cell types.'
Hamachi's material is superior to conventional polymers as it is degradable under biological conditions. Hamachi believes that this kind of supramolecular hydrogel material might be used as an implant after surgery to release a suitable drug around the surgical site and increase the chances of cancer remission.