Catch Pre-Tumor Cancer

Tiny Nano-Device Detects Deadly Cells in Blood Drop

A team of researchers from the Institute of Photonic Sciences has successfully developed a device that will advance the future of cancer detection.

The new device is able to detect tiny concentrations of early stage cancer cells in the bloodstream by reading the levels of a specific cancerous protein in a sample drop of blood. "The most fascinating finding is that we are capable of detecting extremely low concentrations of this protein in a matter of minutes, effectively making this device an ultra-high sensitivity, state-of-the-art, powerful instrument that will benefit early detection and treatment monitoring of cancer," says Romain Quidant, project coordinator.

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The device is no larger than a few square centimeters but has the ability to conduct multiple important tests on any given sample of blood at a microscopic level. The ¨lab-on-a-chip,¨ as it is called, incorporates some of the latest cutting edge technology in nano-fabrication, plasmonics and surface chemistry. Only a single drop of blood is needed for an accurate test, which then circulates through a network of micro-channels, passing gold nano-particles scattered across the surface of the chip. The gold is chemically programmed to attract specific protein markers circulating in the blood, then, when a bond is formed the gold sends out a signal using what is known as ¨plasmonic resonance.¨

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The current detection of cancers takes place at a macroscopic level when the tumor has already grown enough to be clearly visible and potentially life threatening. However, long before cancer cells cluster into dangerous tumors, the cancer is already affecting a few localized cells throughout the body and bloodstream. By detecting these early signs of an oncoming cancer, the problem can be treated with less difficulty than later stage treatment, making it a safer and cheaper alternative to treatments such as chemotherapy. The authors describe the treatment as putting out the fire while it is still only a few random sparks instead of waiting until it is burning all over the house.

The nano-device is also expected to open up the availability of cancer diagnoses to third world countries and remote areas because of its low cost and easily portable size. In places without access to hostpitals or medical clinics this device could allow cancers to be treated in their earliest stages, helping poorer cancer patients to avoid the high costs of chemotherapy and other late term treatments.

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