In a breakthrough, an Indian- American scientist at the prestigious MIT has developed a simple, cheap, paper test that could improve cancer diagnosis rates and help people get treated earlier.
The diagnostic, which works much like a pregnancy test, could reveal within minutes, based on a urine sample, whether a person has cancer, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced yesterday.
This approach has helped detect infectious diseases, and the new technology allows non-communicable diseases to be detected using the same strategy, it said.
The technology, developed by MIT professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator 46-year-old Sangeeta Bhatia, relies on nanoparticles that interact with tumour proteins called proteases, each of which can trigger release of hundreds of biomarkers that are then easily detectable in a patient's urine.
"When we invented this new class of synthetic biomarker, we used a highly specialised instrument to do the analysis," says Bhatia, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
"For the developing world, we thought it would be exciting to adapt it instead to a paper test that could be performed on unprocessed samples in a rural setting, without the need for any specialized equipment. The simple readout could even be transmitted to a remote caregiver by a picture on a mobile phone," Bhatia said in a statement.
Bhatia, a member of MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, is the senior author of a paper describing the particles in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published this week.
The paper's lead authors are graduate student Andrew Warren, postdoc Gabriel Kwong, and former postdoc David Wood.
In 2012, Bhatia and colleagues introduced the concept of a synthetic biomarker technology to amplify signals from tumor proteins that would be hard to detect on their own.
These proteins, known as matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), help cancer cells escape their original locations by cutting through proteins of the extracellular matrix, which normally holds cells in place.
The MIT nanoparticles are coated with peptides (short protein fragments) targeted by different MMPs.
These particles congregate at tumor sites, where MMPs cleave hundreds of peptides, which accumulate in the kidneys and are excreted in the urine, it said.
In the original version of the technology, these peptides were detected using an instrument called a mass spectrometer, which analyzes the molecular makeup of a sample.
However, these instruments are not readily available in the developing world,