A chemical test developed by a Missouri undergraduate student may eradicate the need for high-tech medical devices to screen for prostate cancer.
The technique by the student, Casey Burton, a senior chemistry major at Missouri University of Science and Technology, detects certain metabolites in urine samples. He believes his approach is more accurate than prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests and cheaper because his technique relies on simple chemical reactions, rather than using technical instrumentation.
PSA tests “cannot accurately differentiate between benign prostate condition and active prostate cancer,” Burton writes in an article in January 2012 issue of Analytical Methods, which summarizes his research. “This lack of sufficient diagnostic techniques for prostate cancer highlights the need for more effective screening methods.”
In the article, Burton explains how treating urine samples with a certain enzyme can determine the concentration of the metabolite (or a product of metabolism) sarcosine. Treating each sample with an enzyme and using liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectroscopy techniques, the samples glowed with different levels of fluorescence: the more the samples fluoresced, the lower the level of sarcosine, reports ScienceDaily.
The method Burton came up with can be applied to other metabolites that may be linked to prostate cancer. But the greatest value of his process may be how easy it is to use.
“Instead of using fancy machinery, I can use an enzyme to make the chemical fluoresce,” he says. “So we can effectively analyze our urine samples, and determine whether or not they contain metabolites.”
Another plus is the relatively low cost of the method when it is compared with a traditional PSA test, he says. “This costs a tenth of a penny per sample, compared with the $70 or so it costs to get a PSA tests at a health clinic or doctor’s office,” Burton says.
Source: “Research May Lead to New Approach to Detect Prostate Cancer,” ScienceDaily, 8/3/12
Image by Casey Burton, used with permission.
Dale McGeehon has been a journalist and editor for more than 25 years, covering chemical regulation and testing for Pesticides and Toxic Chemical News and innovations in material sciences for the National Technology Transfer Center. His writing credits include Omni and College Park magazines and The New York Times.