Lab-on-chip device promises early stage cancer diagnosis

An international team of researchers, led by ICFO- Institute of Photonic Sciences in Castelldefels, Spain have developed of a lab-on-a-chip platform capable of detecting protein cancer markers in the blood.

The device, which utilises advances in plasmonics, nanofabrication, microfluids and surface chemistry, is expected to hasten diagnosis of the disease in its earliest stages.

According to a statement, the cancer-tracking nanodevice shows great promise as a tool for future cancer treatments, not only because of its reliability, sensitivity and potential low cost, but also because of its easy carry-on portable properties, which is foreseen to facilitate effective diagnosis and suitable treatment procedures in remote places with difficult access to hospitals or medical clinics.

Gold Nano-particles in fluidic micro-channels attracting protein cancer markers
Gold Nano-particles in fluidic micro-channels attracting protein cancer markers

Although very compact, the lab-on-a-chip hosts various sensing sites distributed across a network of fluidic micro-channels that enables it to conduct multiple analyses.

Gold nanoparticles lie on the surface of the chip and are chemically programed with an antibody receptor in such a way that they are capable of specifically attracting the protein markers circulating in blood.

When a drop of blood is injected into the chip, it circulates through the micro-channels 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 called plasmonic resonance.

The device monitors these changes, the magnitude of which are directly related to the concentration/number of markers in the patient blood, thereby providing a direct assessment of the risk for the patient to develop a cancer.

ICREA Professor at ICFO Romain Quidant, coordinator of the project said: ‘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.’

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 SPEDOC (Surface Plasmon Early Detection of Circulating Heat Shock Proteins and Tumour Cells) project under the 7th Framework Program (FP7) of the European Commission.