Researchers use nanosensors to measure cancer biomarkers in blood
A team of researchers from Yale University in New Haven, Conn., has used nanosensors to measure cancer biomarkers in whole blood, according to an article appearing online December 13 in Nature Nanotechnololgy.

The team—led by Mark Reed, PhD, Yale's Harold Hodgkinson Professor of Engineering & Applied Science, and Tarek Fahmy, PhD, an associate professor of biomedical and chemical engineering at Yale—used nanowire sensors to detect and measure concentrations of two specific biomarkers: one for prostate cancer and the other for breast cancer.

"Nanosensors have been around for the past decade, but they only worked in controlled, laboratory settings," Reed said. "This is the first time we've been able to use them with whole blood, which is a complicated solution containing proteins and ions and other things that affect detection."

The researchers developed a device that acts as a filter, catching the biomarkers—antigens specific to prostate and breast cancer--in a chip while washing away the rest of the blood. By creating a buildup of antigens on the chip the researchers were able to detect concentrations of the biomarkers down to extremely small levels—the equivalent of being able to detect the concentration of a single grain of salt dissolved in a swimming pool.

According to Fahmy, the device allows for more precision in reading out concentration levels and can also do it in a shorter time than through previous methods, which would have been much more labor intensive.

"Doctors could have these small, portable devices in their offices and get nearly instant readings," Fahmy said. "They could also carry them into the field and test patients on site."

“"The advantage of this technology is that it takes the same effort to make a million devices as it does to make just one,” said Reed. “We've brought the power of modern microelectronics to cancer detection."