The device with a nanoparticle-coated network of microfluidic channels only needs a drop of blood to quickly and accurately analyze protein markers and detect certain types of cancer at the earliest stages.
Cancer rates in the Middle East are expected to double in the next decade, the fastest rate of any region globally, according to a report by Nature Asia. Early detection is key in the successful treatment of any type of cancer, but limited resources have stymied efforts by health authorities to screen for cancer.
New fabrication and microfluidic technologies such as lab-on-a-chip devices offer a viable alternative to existing diagnostics due to the portability, simplicity and sensitivity of these devices in detecting biomarkers that indicate diseases like cancer.
Such a device was manufactured recently by researchers at the Spain-based Institute of Photonic Sciences in Castelldefels (ICFO) using the latest research in the fields of nano-fabrication, microfluids, plasmonics and surface chemistry.
The small, compact device measures only a few square centimeters but contains a complete network of sensors laid out in fluidic micro-channels that are capable of analyzing just a single drop of blood. As blood circulates through the micro-channels, certain protein markers in the blood get attached to gold nano-particles containing preprogrammed receptors.
The resulting reaction is what researchers called “plasmonic resonance” which the nanochip measures and analyzes whether or not the patient is likely to have cancer.
“This cancer-tracking nano-device shows great promise as a tool for future cancer treatments, not only because of its reliability, sensitivity and potential low cost, but also because of its easy carry-on portable properties, which is foreseen to facilitate effective diagnosis and suitable treatment procedures in remote places with difficult access to hospitals or medical clinics,” the researchers wrote in a news release.
These are the findings from a study called Surface Plasmon Early Detection of Circulating Heat Shock Proteins and Tumor Cells (SPEDOC) Seventh Framework Program (FP7) funded and sponsored by the European Commission with the help of Cellex Foundation Barcelona.
In the study, the researchers tout the quick but sensitive diagnostic capability of their invented lab-on-a-chip which they describe as a “promising candidate for point-of-care diagnostic and field applications.”
“The most fascinating finding is that we are capable of detecting extremely low concentrations of this protein in a matter of minutes, making this device an ultra-high sensitivity, state-of-the-art, powerful instrument that will benefit early detection and treatment monitoring of cancer,” Romain Quidant, professor at ICFO, said in a statement.
In the study, cancer biomarkers such as human alpha-feto-protein and prostate specific antigen were detected by the device in concentrations as minute as 500 pg/mL using “parallel, real-time inspection of 32 sensing sites distributed across 8 independent microfluidic channels with very high reproducibility/repeatability.”
Such portable lab-in-a-chip devices can be useful for health care workers conducting cancer screening tests in remote areas or even cities with inadequate laboratory equipment. In the field, technicians and care providers can also potentially use these small devices as attachments to smartphones to diagnose a patient.
The use of these point-of-care diagnostic tools can facilitate projects like the Cancer Registry Project (CRP) of the Middle East Cancer Consortium (MECC), and other country-specific cancer screening programs meant to curb rising cancer incidence in the Middle East.