February 2022

World Cancer Day 2022

Today is the annual World Cancer Day, an initiative created in 2000 and led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC). The day as become an annual opportunity for advocates worldwide to share their learnings and unite against one of our biggest global challenges.

Our teams at the UK's National Measurement Laboratory have been involved in research which aims to improve cancer diagnostics. Aristea Anna Leventi is currently completing a PhD between the University of Strathclyde and the National Measurement Laboratory on quantitative bioimaging for cancer diagnostics and biomarker detection. She's investigating the challenges of quantifying signals produced using surface-enhanced Raman scattering(SERS), a more sensitive technique compared to conventional Raman scattering due to the presence of nanoparticles. The additional sensitivity offered by SERS is particularly useful for the detection of biomolecules in complex matrices such as cells or tissues.  

However, absolute quantitation of the acquired SERS signal remains a challenge because there are many parameters influencing the signal and small fluctuations impact the quality of quantitative data. Additionally, the lack of well characterized standards available for calibration can also make quantifying SERS signals challenging. 

Aristea and her team are developing a method using a complementary technique, Laser ablation ICP-MS imaging, to calibrate SERS, with the ultimate goal of quantifying cancer biomarkers. By combining these two techniques, the researchers will build a relationship between the SERS signal and nanoparticle concentration. This could possibly allow the correlation of SERS to robust biological responses while ensuring the comparability and significance of the results.  

The capability of quantification will enable wider use of SERS in cancer research and the possibility of improving cancer diagnostics. For example, the estrogen receptor is one of the main biomarkers in breast cancer and therefore crucial for cancer diagnostics and treatment. By designing nanoparticles that specifically target the receptor sites, we could monitor its presence and use the nanoparticle signal to potentially quantify the receptor through the SERS signal. This is one of a plethora of possibilities.