A completely new test for risk of prostate cancer? But is it good enough?


New data published in the journal Applied Materials and Interfaces (along with media information that should be read with some caution) suggests the possibility of a new way to test for risk of prostate cancer based on the adhesion of citrate-capped gold nanoparticles to biomolecules in truly tiny blood samples.

The “New” Prostate cancer InfoLink is going to need to see a lot more data before we become overly enthusiastic about the test described in the new paper by Zheng et al. and the associated media information issued by the University of Central Florida. However, this is quite certainly a very different way of assessing a serum sample for risk of the presence of prostate cancer.

The unanswered questions at this time are going to include all of the following:

  • Is this a test that can really, practically be executed by most clinicians in their offices? It doesn’t seem likely, but we are willing to suspend our disbelief at least for a little while.
  • Exactly how much better than the PSA test (and other newer tests) will this activated gold nanoparticle process prove to be — if it really is? What happens in high-tech laboratories and what can get implemented in the real world of clinical medicine tend to be rather different.
  • What will the real cost be to actually conduct this test? (Don’t for one moment get the idea that this will be a $1.00 test. That’s just the potential cost for the activated nanoparticles, before anyone actually has to carry out the test and interpret the results.)
  • Does the test offer us any relevant information about the clinical significance of the risk? In other words, can the test be helpful in determining who does and doesn’t actually need a biopsy?

At present, the test developers are claiming that the test has an accuracy of 90 to 95 percent when it gives a positive result, but it is only about 50 percent accurate when it gives a negative result. Is that better than a PSA test? Sure it is. But a 50 percent error rate on a negative finding is still not what most of us would like to have to deal with.

It would certainly be good for the diagnosis and management of prostate cancer if one could use a test like the test that diabetics use to monitor blood sugar levels to assess risk. However, a test like this is going to need to undergo some rather more rigorous analysis before it would be approved for such a use by regulatory authorities like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and others around the world.

One Response

  1. Thanks, and Complementary Paper Available

    First, thank you Sitemaster for spotlighting this research. I have read the media release, the abstract, and scanned a complete paper by the author and colleagues from 2012 that I found impressive at first look. Right off, with rising concern about when biopsies should be performed, it appears that this test, if feasible in a clinical setting, would sharply reduce positive but non-cancer signal; as it put this in the media release: “The test determines with 90 to 95 percent confidence that the result is not false-positive.”

    I wanted to know if the lead researcher and team had credibility as researchers, and, with the subject paper available only by subscription, I looked for earlier papers by author Huo and team. The informative 2012 paper and other papers by Huo show that this is the latest in a string of evolving research studies, that Huo has appropriate credentials and experience, that the team had access to needed expertise, and that the references lend assurance of firm grounding in prostate cancer research. Of course that does not mean that this is a proven or even sound technology, but it certainly is enough to warrant further consideration as a potential breakthrough. Here is the link to that 2012 complete paper.

    The press release states that author Huo will be presenting results at a conference in the Washington, DC area in June.

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