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New chip can detect cancer early

Canadian researchers have developed an inexpensive microchip that is sensitive enough to detect the type and severity of the disease. The microchip has been successfully tested on prostate cancer, and head and neck cancer models.

tech reviews Updated: Sep 30, 2009 13:26 IST

In a major breakthrough for early cancer detection, Canadian researchers have developed an inexpensive microchip that is sensitive enough to detect the type and severity of the disease.

The microchip has been successfully tested on prostate cancer, and head and neck cancer models.

It can also be used to diagnose other cancers, as well as infectious diseases such as HIV and the H1N1 flu.

Researchers at the University of Toronto here used nanomaterials for the first time to build the sensitive microchip.

In their work reported in Nature Nanotechnology this week, the researchers say the new device will make sophisticated molecular diagnostics easily available soon.

"The remarkable innovation is an indication that the age of nanomedicine is dawning," David Naylor, who is president of the University of Toronto and professor of medicine, was quoted as saying in a university statement.

The device quickly picks up the 'biomarkers' that hint at the presence of cancer at the cellular level, even though these biomolecules - genes that indicate aggressive or benign forms of the disease - are generally present at low levels in biological samples, the statement said.

Analysis can be completed in 30 minutes, compared to days taken by the current diagnostic procedures.

"Today, it takes a room filled with computers to evaluate a clinically relevant sample of cancer biomarkers and the results aren't quickly available," said research leader and medicine professor Shana Kelley.

"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," she said.

Since the current conventional, flat metal electrical sensors are inadequate to sense cancer's particular biomarkers, the Toronto team fabricated a chip and decorated it with nanometre-sized wires and molecular 'bait' to make it more sensitive.

"Uniting DNA with speedy, miniaturised electronic chips is an example of cross-disciplinary convergence," said co-researcher Ted Sargent.

"By working with outstanding researchers in nanomaterials, pharmaceutical sciences, and electrical engineering, we were able to demonstrate that controlled integration of nanomaterials provides a major advantage in disease detection and analysis," he said.