Research Highlight

Glowing biosensor to detect an aggressive lung cancer

doi:10.1038/nindia.2020.179 Published online 26 November 2020

A light-emitting graphene-based biosensor can help diagnose small-cell lung cancer (SCLC), the most aggressive form of lung cancer1. The biosensor could help detect the deadly cancer by measuring extremely low concentrations of neuron-specific enolase (NSE), a biomarker in human serum, a team of researchers has found.                                                                        

Monitoring the levels of the biomarker will be potentially useful for determining the appropriate course of chemotherapy and its effectiveness for a patient with SCLC, the researchers say.

Originating in the lungs, SCLC spreads to multiple organs within a short time. To find a rapid diagnostic kit for this cancer, scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology in Roorkee, India, designed the biosensor using modified graphene quantum dots, antibodies specific to NSE and gold nanoparticles.  

The researchers, led by Gopinath Packirisamy, exposed the biosensor to various concentrations of NSE under specific doses of radiation. On binding to NSE, the biosensor emitted blue light. The intensity of the light increased with increasing concentrations of NSE.

The biosensor displayed negligible changes in light emission when exposed to biomolecules other than NSE, indicating its selectivity. It also measured various concentrations of NSE in human serum samples within 16 minutes, suggesting it is fast and potentially useful in a clinical set-up.  

The nanomaterials used for making the biosensor could also be applied for bioimaging, delivering genes and drugs, and for developing 3D-printed implantable biochips, says Packirisamy.


1. Kalkal, A. et al. Biofunctionalized graphene quantum dots based fluorescent biosensor toward efficient detection of small cell lung cancer. ACS. Appl. Bio. Mater. 3, 4922-4932 (2020)