New approach to detect prostate cancer

Senior chemistry student Casey Burton is helping find an easier method of testing for prostate cancer without using high-tech machinery. Instead, he uses an enzyme to make a simple chemical fluresce.

Using a simple chemical reaction that makes metabolites in the urine samples of prostate cancer patients glow, senior chemistry student Casey Burton is helping find an easier method of testing for the disease than the conventional prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. Burton’s method is also less costly and more accurate.

He says treating urine samples with an enzyme that is similar to amino acids and nucleic acids can determine the concentration of the metabolite sarcosine. Even though the link between sarcosine and prostate cancer has been refuted, Burton’s method for detecting its presence could be used to test for the presence of other metabolites that are linked to various diseases.

“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.”

The system’s low cost when compared to traditional PSA tests is also a plus, Burton says.

“This costs a tenth of a penny per sample, compared with the $70 or so it costs to get a PSA test at a health clinic or doctor’s office,” he says.

Burton’s research was published in Analytical Methods in January 2012. His co-authors are Yinfa Ma, Curators’ Teaching Professor of chemistry, and Sanjeewa Gamagedara, PhD Chem’12.

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