– Qun “Treen” Huo grew up in China’s Hunan Province, tagging along with her grandparents to government farm fields to work. From those days, she harvested lessons for a lifetime.

“You always look at things in a more complicated way. I learned to pay attention to what people say. Pay attention to what the problem is. Never said yes, never said no so easily, because you don’t know what the truth is until you’re absolutely sure,” she said.

Now, Huo leads a team of University of Central Florida researchers who have developed a blood test that uses gold nanoparticles to show whether someone is at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer and potentially other types of cancer.

The team is still in early stages of developing the test, but Huo, 46, says the blood test is simple, inexpensive and quick. She envisions the test to one day be available in doctors’ offices and drugstores.

“We want to develop a screening test for people 45 years and older, so if we detect unusual immune activity and you’re not really sick, we just say your risk of having cancer is high,” said Huo, scientist and associate professor at NanoScience Technology Center at the UCF department of chemistry.

Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers among U.S. men. This year, more than 220,000 men will have prostate cancer diagnosed, and nearly 27,500 will die from it. Some 3 million men living today have had a prostate-cancer diagnosis at some point, the American Cancer Society said.

Gold nanoparticles are used broadly in biomedicine because of their strong light-scattering properties, which makes them easy to track. When mixed with blood, the tiny gold particles attract proteins, including antibodies, that are even smaller. Some of these antibodies, researchers have found, are formed as a result of the body’s immune response to early-stage tumors.

Huo and her team found that when they added a certain chemical to this mix, the gold nanoparticles that had tumor-specific antibodies clumped together, creating larger clusters, which were detected and measured in a device the size of a large laptop bag. These clusters were not found in the samples taken from individuals who didn’t have cancer. The study, funded by the Department of Defense Prostate Cancer Research Program, was published in the journal of Applied Materials and Interfaces.