We report that gold/zinc oxide (Au/ZnO) nanocomposite films were effectively employed to enhance the performance of surface plasmon resonance (SPR) for the detection of tumor markers. Carbohydrate antigen 15.3 (CA15-3), a tumor marker for breast cancer, was chosen as a model analyte. We analyzed intensity response to the samples at various concentrations (0.0125 U/mL to 160 U/mL) in pleural fluid to evaluate the detection capability of the SPR biosensor based on Au/ZnO thin films. The linear range extended from 1 to 40 U/mL with a correlation coefficient of R<sup> 2</sup> = 0.991 and a limit of detection reaching 0.025 U/mL at a signal-to-noise ratio of 3:1. Compared with the degree of the shift in SPR intensity induced by the specific binding event between antibody and antigen, the change of intensity on the Au/ZnO layers was increased by at least 2 fold over that on the gold/chromium (Au/Cr) layers. In addition, we determined that the Au/ZnO layers allowed for a detection limit 4 times lower than the Au/Cr layers, which are in widespread use as the sensing interfaces in current SPR-based detectors. In conclusion, the use of Au/ ZnO films greatly enhanced the SPR signal yield for this bimolecular interaction and showed high sensitivity.
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