Soon cancer diagnosis will be as easy and cheap as pregnancy urine test


If cancer diagnosis is as easy and as affordable as a pregnancy urine test, then people could likely detect the presence of the disease earlier, which could significantly improve the outcomes of their treatment and even save their lives. Fortunately, such a solution may soon be available, as MIT engineers have developed a cheap urine test that could detect cancer.

The technology, which was discussed in the "Point-of-care diagnostics for noncommunicable diseases using synthetic urinary biomarkers and paper microfluidics" published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), depends on nanoparticles that interact with tumor proteins known as proteases that trigger the release of biomarkers that can be easily detected in a person's urine.

The paper test works like a pregnancy urine test. A person simply has to urinate on a special paper strip coated with antibodies that detect marker fragments and the result will be revealed within minutes. Besides cancer, the test can also detect noncommunicable diseases. The researchers used the test on mice and they were able to accurately identify blood clots and colon tumors.

"This is a clever and inspired technology to develop new exogenous compounds that can detect clinical conditions with aberrantly high protease concentrations," said Samuel Sia, an associate professor of biological engineering at Columbia University. "Extending this technology to detection by strip tests is a big leap forward in bringing its use to outpatient clinics and decentralized health settings."

Sangeeta Bhatia, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who developed the test, said that the technology will likely be used first by people who had cancer previously or are at risk of the disease such as those with a family history of cancer. She also said she would like the test used in developing nations.

"When we invented this new class of synthetic biomarker, we used a highly specialized instrument to do the analysis," Bhatia said. "For the developing world, we thought it would be exciting to adapt it instead to a paper test that could be performed on unprocessed samples in a rural setting, without the need for any specialized equipment. The simple readout could even be transmitted to a remote caregiver by a picture on a mobile phone."

Bhatia also said that the technology can also be useful in developed countries such as the United States as a simpler and cheaper alternative to imaging. "I think it would be great to bring it back to this setting, where point-of-care, image-free cancer detection, whether it's in your home or in a pharmacy clinic, could really be transformative," Bhatia said.

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