UTSA professor awarded grant to support development of prostate cancer detection method

Jing Yong Ye, professor of biomedical engineering at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), has received a two-year, $354,617 grant from the National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute to support the development of his noninvasive method of detecting prostate cancer.

Ye's research team has been working on the development of a novel microscope based on a photonic crystal biosensor to detect the cancer through a urine sample. It will significantly improve accuracy compared to the approach used in current clinical practice.

Prostate cancer is the second most prevalent type of cancer, and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths, in men. Early detection is key to survival, which is why doctors are required to screen all men over the age of 50 for the disease.

To screen patients for prostate cancer, medical professionals take a blood sample and look for prostate-specific antigen (PSA). If a high level of PSA is found, the patient is suspected to have prostate cancer and required to have a prostate biopsy.

Unfortunately, PSA tests are far from providing satisfactory diagnoses and result in a large number of unnecessary prostate biopsies due to a high false-positive rate. This is because PSA elevation may also occur in men with infection and chronic inflammation or benign prostatic hyperplasia.

"False positive diagnoses are very common in prostate cancer tests," Ye said. "As a result, a patient may undergo a biopsy he doesn't need, which is painful and could cause an infection. Also, because prostate cancer is highly heterogeneous and even multicore prostate biopsy only samples a few local areas, it can easily be missed by clinicians."

Since about 70 percent of men who go through the biopsy process are found to be cancer-free, Ye wanted to look for a better way. His research team will develop a noninvasive imaging approach to check urine samples, since cells from the prostate are shed into urine naturally.

"The system we are developing utilizes a sensitive biosensor, which allows us to distinguish cancer cells from normal cells based on a unique feature of the cells," he said. "If you can detect a cancer cell, you're starting from a more precise place and you can give a more accurate diagnosis."

Ye's laboratory develops cutting edge tools based on different biosensors, optical imaging methods and nanobiotechnology to address critical issues in biomedical engineering research and applications.

"We need to use every weapon in our arsenal to attack this disease," Ye said. "It's important to think outside the box and use innovation to address these critical issues."

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