Today, the majority of cancers are detected on the macroscopic level, when the tumor is already composed of millions of cancer cells and the disease is starting to advance into a more mature phase.
But what if we could diagnose cancer It would be like putting a fire out while it was still just a few sparks versus after having already caught on and spread to many areas of the house.
An international team of researchers, led by ICFO – Institute of Photonic Sciences in Castelldefels, has developed a “lab-on-a-chip” platform capable of detecting very low concentrations of protein cancer markers in the blood, using the latest advances in plasmonics, nano-fabrication, microfluids and surface chemistry.
The device enables diagnoses of the disease in its earliest stages before it take hold, which is key to successful diagnosis and treatment of this disease.
This cancer-tracking nano-device shows great promise as a tool for future cancer treatments because of its reliability, sensitivity, potential low cost, and small size (only a few square centimeters), allowing for effective diagnosis and treatment procedures in remote places.
Although very compact , the lab-on-a-chip hosts sensing sites distributed across a network of fluidic microchannels, enabling it to conduct multiple analyses. Gold nanoparticles on the surface of the chip are chemically programmed with an antibody receptor that can specifically attract the cancer protein markers circulating in blood.
When a drop of blood is injected into the chip, it circulates through the microchannels and if cancer markers are present in the blood, they will stick to the nanoparticles located on the micro-channels as they pass by, setting off changes in “plasmonic resonance.” The magnitude of these changes are directly related to the concentration and number of markers in the patient blood, which provides a direct assessment of the risk for the patient to develop a cancer.
“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,” said ICREA Professor at ICFO Romain Quidant, coordinator of the project.
In 2009, Prof. Quidant’s research group at ICFO, in collaboration with several groups of oncologists, joined the worldwide effort devoted to the ultra-sensitive detection of protein markers located on the surface of cancer cells and in peripheral blood, which had been determined to be a clear indicator of the development of cancer. In 2010, they successfully obtained funding for the project called SPEDOC (Surface Plasmon Early Detection of Circulating Heat Shock Proteins and Tumor Cells) under the 7th Framework Program (FP7) of the European Commission.