photo: cancer cells
The new chip might produce quicker
results; © NCI Visuals Online

The researchers' new device can easily sense the signature biomarkers that indicate the presence of cancer at the cellular level, even though these biomolecules – genes that indicate aggressive or benign forms of the disease and differentiate subtypes of the cancer – are generally present only at low levels in biological samples. Analysis can be completed in 30 minutes, a vast improvement over the existing diagnostic procedures that generally take days, according to the scientists.

"Today, it takes a room filled with computers to evaluate a clinically relevant sample of cancer biomarkers and the results are not quickly available," says Shana Kelley, who was a lead investigator on the project. "Our team was able to measure biomolecules on an electronic chip the size of your fingertip and analyse the sample within half an hour. The instrumentation required for this analysis can be contained within a unit the size of a BlackBerry."

The research team found that conventional, flat metal electrical sensors were inadequate to sense cancer's particular biomarkers. Instead, they designed and fabricated a chip and decorated it with nanometre-sized wires and molecular "bait."

"We rely on the measurement of biomarkers to detect cancer and to know if treatments are working," says Tom Hudson, president and scientific director of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. "The discovery by Dr. Kelley and her team offers the possibility of a faster, more cost-effective technology that could be used anywhere, speeding up diagnosis and helping to deliver a more targeted treatment to the patient." The team's microchip platform has been tested on prostate cancer as well as head and neck cancer models.; Source: University of Toronto