New device aims at ending painful biopsies

Posted on September 28, 2009 in Health Debates – National – New device aims at ending painful biopsies: University of Toronto researchers develop a microchip technology that can diagnose cancer and infectious disease in 30 minutes
Sep. 27, 2009.   Staff, Toronto

A new cancer-detecting device the size of a BlackBerry designed by a team of University of Toronto researchers could revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of cancers and other ailments.

Designed with microchip technology, the new device is aimed at eliminating the need for painful biopsies by detecting the presence and severity of cancer via a urine sample. It could also eliminate equally painful wait times patients undergoing cancer diagnoses routinely endure: test results computed by the device can be completed in 30 minutes.

“Today, it takes a room filled with computers to evaluate a clinically relevant sample of cancer biomarkers and the results aren’t quickly available,” says Shana Kelley, the U of T professor who was a lead investigator on the project and co-authored a paper on the work published Monday in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. “Our team was able to measure biomolecules on an electronic chip the size of your fingertip and analyze the sample within half an hour.”

Although still in the engineering phase (doctors won’t have the option of acquiring the devices for another two or three years) the device has been tested on prostate cancer and head and neck cancer models. It could potentially be used to diagnose and assess other cancers, as well as infectious diseases such as HIV, MRSA and H1N1 flu.

“The system…is a revolutionary technology that could allow us to track biomarkers that might have significant relevance to cancer, with a combination of speed, sensitivity, and accuracy not available with any current technology,” says Dr. Fei-Fei Liu, a radiation oncologist at Princess Margaret Hospital and Head of the Applied Molecular Oncology Division at the Ontario Cancer Institute. “This type of approach could have a profound impact on the future management for our cancer patients.”

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