A portable, versatile and low-cost molecular detection tool being developed
by a team of European researchers promises to revolutionise the diagnosis of
diseases such as cancer and open up new applications in sectors as diverse as
environmental protection, chemical analysis and food safety.
Working in the field of micro- and nano-technologies, the IST programme-funded
BioFinger project is due to begin testing its state-of-the-art system over the
summer amid expectations for a commercial product to be available on the market
within two to three years.
“What we are creating is a generic, highly precise and highly versatile tool
to detect and analyse molecules in the blood and other fluids using nano and
micro cantilevers,” explains project coordinator Joan Bausells at the Consejo
Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas in Spain.
Nanocantilevers, smaller than the surface of a fly's eye, and their larger counterparts
microcantilevers, function as sensors to detect molecules providing in the medical
world, for example, a way to rapidly and accurately diagnose disease. When coated
with antibodies they bend and resonate to changes in surface tension and mass
when fluids containing disease-related protein molecules attach to them. By seeing
whether or not the cantilevers react, doctors would be able to determine whether
or not a disease is present.
Though much research has been carried out into cantilevers, it has focused principally
on creating large-scale tools for use inside laboratories.
“You can't carry those around with you, so what we are developing is the first
portable device that will allow doctors to diagnose diseases on the spot almost
immediately,” Bausells says.
During trials at Cork University Hospital in Ireland this summer, the microcantilever
version of the system will be used to detect a protein associated with prostate
cancer, while the nanocantilever system, which can detect a single molecule,
will be used to test blood samples for interleukin 6, a protein associated with
The BioFinger tool incorporates the cantilevers on a microchip that is disposable
after each use, allowing it to be reconfigured with new on-chip cantilevers to
detect different substances. The analysis, which can be performed anywhere, anytime,
takes between 15 and 20 minutes, “considerably less than the hours or days” it
takes to analyse a blood sample using traditional in-lab methods, the coordinator
notes. In addition, the system is likely to be considerably cheaper than traditional
diagnosis techniques with each disposable chip expected to cost around 8 euros.
“It is also extremely versatile,” Bausells notes. “It could be used to detect
virtually any disease, as a pregnancy test or even to determine blood types.
Outside of the medical field, it could be used to analyse chemicals, detect bacteria
in food or test for water pollution.”
Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC)
Centro Nacional de Microelectronica
URL : http://istresults.cordis.lu/