Scientists from Washington State University have developed a technology that is more than 30 times more sensitive than current lab-based tests in finding early-stage cancer biomarkers in blood.
The technology uses an electric field to concentrate and separate cancer biomarkers onto a paper strip.
It could someday become a kind of liquid biopsy and could lead to earlier detection of and faster treatments for cancer, a disease that causes more than 9.6 million deaths a year around the world.
The research is published in Biosensors and Bioelectronics and was conducted by Wenji Dong et al.
Researchers have long sought ways to detect cancer earlier to save more lives.
While lab tests to detect tumor biomarkers in blood have been developed, they often can’t find early-stage cancer because the cancer markers are at levels too low to detect.
Instead, people most often find out they have cancer through invasive biopsies once tumors are established.
In the study, the researchers were able to detect miniscule levels of the cancer markers in tiny extracellular bubbles called exosomes in as little as 10 minutes.
Ranging in size from 40 to 120 nanometers, or about 1000 times smaller in width than a strand of hair, the exosomes are thought to shuttle molecules from parent cancer cells through the body, entering and then re-programming friendly cells to become cancerous.
Cancer cells also secrete more exosome bubbles than regular cells.
The researchers call the work a “significant step” in developing rapid testing and early cancer detection.
The team for the first time applied a technology that uses an electric field to rapidly isolate, enrich and detect the exosomes taken from a prostate cancer cell line.
The technology was 33 times more sensitive than conventional methods that are used in research labs to detect and analyze exosomes.
The researchers are now working to improve it using a greater amount of human blood which, with a confusing mix of hormones, lipids, and other elements floating around, can create a challenging environment for successful testing.
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