Wits Commercial Enterprise South Africa

Wits researchers have developed a kit for diagnosing cancer by detecting telomerase activity in cells using functionalized gold nanoparticles. The Ageing Related Disease Diagnostic (ARDD) telomerase assay will ultimately be easier to use, have a potentially longer shelf-life, and avoid the introduction of impurities typical to existing kits, allowing for a more accurate diagnosis.

High activity of the enzyme telomerase in cells indicates the uncontrolled division of cells. As this is a characteristic of cancer cells, this biomarker can be used as a cancer diagnostic tool. The detection technique utilized by the ARDD is that of a colorimetric analysis; whereby the aforementioned gold nanoparticles change the colour of the solution depending on their proximity to each other. The gold nanoparticles move further away from each other the higher the telomerase activity, and as a result, the solution becomes more red-shifted indicating the presence of cancer cells. The opposite phenomenon would mean lower telomerase activity, which results in a more blue-shifted solution colour change, and therefore lower or no cancer cell detection. The method is quite sensitive as even a small change in telomerase activity, and therefore in gold nanoparticle size, could result in an observable colour change. This sensitivity, as well as the ability to be easily functionalized using different molecules, makes the ARDD a very useful biosensor in detecting telomerase activity, and ultimately diagnosing cancer.

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