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Using a sensor made of densely packed carbon nanotubes coated with gold nanoparticles, a researcher team headed by James Rusling of the University of Connecticut has developed a low-cost microfluidic device for detecting oral cancer. According to the researchers, the device is readily adaptable to detecting other cancers.
Tests on samples obtained from 78 oral cancer patients and 49 control subjects showed that the device has a clinical sensitivity of 89% and specificity of 98% for detecting oral cancer. Dr. Rusling and his collaborators published their results in the journal Analytical Chemistry. While other groups have also developed analytical methods that produce similar promise for detecting blood-borne biomarkers of oral cancer, these methods are based on time-consuming and expensive technologies.
The microfluidic device that Dr. Rusling's team developed simultaneously detects extraordinarily low levels of four proteins that together provide a diagnostic signature for oral cancer. Magnetic beads, each coated with 120,000 antibody molecules, are used to capture even trace levels of specific biomarker proteins and remove them from a blood sample. The magnetic particles are then injected into the microfluidic device, which flows the beads over the sensor elements. Each sensor's electrical output corresponds to blood levels of a specific protein.
According to the investigators, the entire assay takes 50 minutes to perform. Each disposable carbon nanotube sensor chip costs about $9. The readout device uses available electronic components and pumps that together cost under $26,000, which "makes this approach accessible to virtually any biomedical laboratory at a small cost."
About The National Cancer Institute (NCI)
To help meet the goal of reducing the burden of cancer, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, is engaged in efforts to harness the power of nanotechnology to radically change the way we diagnose, treat and prevent cancer.
The NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer is a comprehensive, systematized initiative encompassing the public and private sectors, designed to accelerate the application of the best capabilities of nanotechnology to cancer.
Currently, scientists are limited in their ability to turn promising molecular discoveries into benefits for cancer patients. Nanotechnology can provide the technical power and tools that will enable those developing new diagnostics, therapeutics, and preventives to keep pace with today’s explosion in knowledge.
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