The behavior of just a few molecules of hydrogen peroxide in your cells could give you cancer. But scientists have difficulty tracking individual molecules emerging from your body. That changed last weekend, and could transform cancer treatments.
A group of researchers at MIT have devised a sensor made from carbon nanotubes and collagen, which can track single molecules of hydrogen peroxide as they leave any cell. A release from MIT explains, "When the nanotubes come in contact with . . . hydrogen peroxide, their fluorescence flickers. By counting the flickers, one can obtain an accurate count of the incident molecules."
The group performed their experiments by looking at the interaction between hydrogen peroxide and a cell receptor called EGFR, which involved in cell growth. It is believed that hydrogen peroxide is involved in the cell growth process as well, including when growth goes awry in cancers. Early results seem to bear this theory out, since the researchers discovered elevated levels of hydrogen peroxide molecules in skin cancer cells.
Chemical engineer Michael Strano, who worked on the sensor, said it could in the future become a common diagnostic tool. He said, "You could envision a small handheld device, for example, which your doctor could point at some tissue in a minimally invasive manner and tell if this pathway is corrupted." In other words, you could use a future version of this sensor to figure out if your cells were emitting too many molecules of hydrogen peroxide - and possibly stop your cancer before it has a chance to start.