13
Dec
09

Cancer biomarker chip

One of the things I like to talk about a lot on this blog is the amazing new things that are being done with teeny, tiny sensors and detectors. That’s not just because they’re cool and geeky, but because the growing power to look deep into living things and snoop around among the molecules there is how we’re going to understand complex living systems and do something useful with the information.

A report in today’s Nature Nanotechnology is a case in point. A team from Yale University has developed a microfluidic device (aka, lab-on-a-chip) that is able to identify antigens for prostate and breast cancer from small samples of whole blood. Pulling very specific proteins out of blood — a complex solution of things  — is a good trick. The new chip does it with much less preparation and with greater sensitivity than past techniques.

A microfluidic purification chip simultaneously captures multiple biomarkers from blood samples and releases them, after washing, into purified buffer for sensing by a silicon nanoribbon detector. This two-stage approach isolates the detector from the complex environment of whole blood, and reduces its minimum required sensitivity by effectively pre-concentrating the biomarkers.

The payoff is that a device for use clinically by doctors might be available pretty soon.

“Doctors could have these small, portable devices in their offices and get nearly instant readings,” [Tarek] Fahmy said. “They could also carry them into the field and test patients on site.”

The new device could also be used to test for a wide range of biomarkers at the same time, from ovarian cancer to cardiovascular disease, [Mark] Reed said. “The advantage of this technology is that it takes the same effort to make a million devices as it does to make just one. We’ve brought the power of modern microelectronics to cancer detection.”

(Quoted from Physorg.com.)

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