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New supersensitive biosensor for early cancer detection

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A supersensitive biosensor for cancer detection could unlock the next era of initial cancer testing, according to its developers at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU).

At the very early stages of cancer, circulating cancer cells release proteins into the blood. Detecting such molecules could allow certain cancer patients earlier diagnosis and potentially allow clinicians to monitor cancer resistance and treatment. However, the proteins are of a very low molecular weight and low concentration – too low to be picked up by current testing methods.

By harnessing nanotechnology tools and coupling a microfluidic channel with an engineered material call a metamaterial, the Case Western Reserve University team produced a biosensor up to one million times more sensitive than existing methods. A molecule landing on the biosensor causes reflecting light to shift and be detected. As different size molecules cause reflecting light to shift by different amounts the researchers hope to identify specific biomarkers for different cancers by their different light shifts. The new biosensor would enable much earlier detection, essential for positive treatment of most cancers.

Dr Nima Sharifi, co-leader of the Genitourinary Cancer Program for the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center said: “This new sensing technology may help us not only detect cancers, but what subset of cancer, what’s driving its growth and spread and what it’s sensitive to.” 

The research team are currently filing patents on the technology but they don’t have a commercialisation plan in place yet. They are also collaborating with the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center to test the sensor with proteins related to prostate cancer.

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