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A Brilliant Trap for Disease Biomarkers

February 14, 2012

Alessandra Luchini

Alessandra Luchini

Thanks to an innovative new tool, cancer may be caught earlier, Lyme disease may be diagnosed more effectively, and human growth hormone may be detected in trace amounts. In other words, this Mason-born invention could affect the lives of millions.

In 2008, Alessandra Luchini and a team of researchers at the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine, introduced a new technology that looks at specific protein biomarkers in blood or urine to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other diseases. This year, Luchini was named one of the top scientists under the age of 40 by Popular Science magazine, in part because of her work on this technology.

This tool, consisting of nanoparticles, captures, concentrates, and preserves cancer and other disease markers in a single step. The nanoparticles are added to blood or urine to catch these disease biomarkers, similar to how a lobster trap catches lobsters. Funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) supported the research.

Luchini’s discovery is licensed under the name Nanotrap through Ceres Nanoscience, a Mason spin-off company launched to promote university-based inventions. Luchini, as codirector of science at Ceres, has overseen the use of this technology by several other research facilities as a way to discover molecules in body fluids.

“The nanoparticles that Dr. Luchini developed both solve and overcome many of the technical barriers that have prohibited biomarker discovery,” says Emanuel Petricoin III, codirector of the center. “Now, armed with this technology, we can envision the next five years being one of explosive growth for the discovery of new biomarkers for early detection of diseases.”

Luchini originally came to Mason with a fellowship sponsored by the Istituto Superiore di Sanita in Italy, which continues to support her research. The nanoparticle projects are funded by the NIH’s National Cancer Institute and National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

—Leah Kerkman Fogarty

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