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"Disease Detective" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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Johns Hopkins researchers have created a synthetic protein that, when activated by ultraviolet light, can guide doctors to places within the body where cancer, arthritis and other serious medical disorders can be detected.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Lighting the way.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

There's a new synthetic protein developed by Johns Hopkins University that could lead to a new way to find places in the body where disease is present. The protein doesn't detect the disease itself, but, once injected, instead gravitates to areas where the collagen has been damaged because of disease. The synthetic proteins are called "collagen mimetic peptides," or CMPs. Think of your body as a house and diseases like cancer as burglars. The bad guys get in there, do their damage then move on. The CMPs don't go after the PERPS they seek out and under UV light, reveal evidence at the crime scene.

Cancer cells can produce enzymes that break down collagen. CMPs are attracted to the collagen that's been damaged and bind to it. Tissue scans let doctors see areas of damaged collagen where disease is probably not far away.

The team tested the new synthetic protein on mice, and successfully located prostate and pancreatic cancers. To diagnose other conditions the protein was able to target bones and cartilage in the same way.

The method shows promise for locating and treating a wide range of conditions. Finding a non-invasive method for diagnosis through disrupted collagen has eluded science until now.

I love a good detective story.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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