Plastic antibodies can find biomarkers for cancer
Sialic acid can be used as a biomarker for cancer and also plays a role in viral infections. But how can it be more easily identified and what role does it play in a SARS-CoV-2 infection? These are the questions that are answered in a new dissertation by a Malmö University researcher.
Sialic acid is a sugar group that sits at the far end of cell surface proteins and lipids; it plays a crucial role in many biological processes and can be used as a biomarker for cancer.
If cancer patients can be diagnosed and treated early, there is a greater chance that the treatment will be successful.
“We have produced small plastic particles, molecularly shaped polymers, which can be used as "plastic antibodies" to identify sialic acid,” says Yuechang Zhang, who recently presented the results in his dissertation.
Sialic acid can be difficult to detect as it is a small, simple molecule that is also similar to other sugar molecules. Therefore, there is a great need to develop new tools that can more easily identify the acid, which in turn can mean an improved cancer diagnosis.
“If cancer patients can be diagnosed and treated early, there is a greater chance that the treatment will be successful. The particles we have developed can recognize sialic acid on the surface of the cancer cell and show potential as a future effective tool in cancer diagnosis,” says Zhang.
Sialic acid also has a role in certain viral infections, including as a receptor for influenza virus. Therefore, the researchers also investigated the role that sialic acid may play in a SARS-CoV-2 infection.
“Our study contributes to new knowledge about the expression of virus receptors in different cell lines. Our preliminary results do not indicate that sialic acid is directly involved in the binding of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to human cells,” concludes Zhang.
Text: Anna Dahlbeck & Adrian Grist