St Andrews search for cancer

Researchers in Scotland have been awarded £850,000 to create mini detection units to help detect bladder, lung and cervical cancers.

Professors Thomas Krauss and Kishan Dholakia, of St Andews University, are to create an optical trap made of semiconductor laser material which will form the units. The techonology, which is already patented, will also detect biological warfare agents such as anthrax.

‘At present a range of diseases are detected by arrays of test tubes and expensive and compicated machines operated by skilled personel,’ said Kraus. ‘Lab-on-a-chip devices simplify biochemical testing and allow processes usually confined to a remote lab to take place at the point of care, for example in a GP practice. Our technology integrates lasers and detectors right onto the chip. Developing these techniques ‘on chip’ will make them potentially usable by patients as well as the medical profession.’

The technology uses all-optical sensing methods which could be used to detect materials such as pollen, yeast, erythrocytes, bacteria and viruses. It is hoped the devices could be commericially available within five to ten years.

‘Any approach that simplifies a given test will reduce cost,’ added Krauss. ‘But also make the given test more widely available and cover a myriad of diseases. By being mass-producible, the devices will also be disposable, thus avoiding problems of cross-contamination.’