Researchers at the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) have developed a lab-on-a-chip device that can detect protein cancer markers in a drop of blood, working as a very early cancer-detection system. The device can detect very low concentrations of markers and is reliable, cheap and portable, making it attractive for deployment in remote areas of the world.

Early detection is of paramount importance for successful cancer treatment. Unfortunately, many cancers are detected late on, when the illness has already spread to millions of cells, because most medical devices are only able to detect tumors once they have already become macroscopic.

Things could now change thanks to the research led by Prof. Romain Quidant. He and his team developed a small, portable device that uses fluidic micro-channels to detect even the smallest concentrations of cancer markers from a single drop of blood.

When blood enters the device, it is distributed to a network of micro-channels. Each channel contains gold nanoparticles along with a specific antibody receptor: if a cancer marker protein is present in the blood, it will stick to the nanoparticles. According to the researchers, the device is then able to monitor the number of markers in the blood for each channel, providing an accurate assessment of the patient's cancer risk.

"The most fascinating finding is that we are capable of detecting extremely low concentrations of this protein in a matter of minutes, making this device an ultra-high sensitivity, state-of-the-art, powerful instrument that will benefit early detection and treatment monitoring of cancer," says Quidant.

The device was developed by combining the latest advances in plasmonics, nano-fabrication, microfluids and surface chemistry, and it holds the promise for earlier cancer diagnoses and a prompt choice of a suitable treatment.

A paper detailing the advance appears in the journal Nano Letters.

Source: ICFO