New technology, detailed in Nature Nanotechnology, separates purification and detection stages to allow picogram/mL detection.

Scientists report developing a nanosensor-based technology that allowed the detection of picogram-per-milliliter concentrations of a cancer biomarker in whole blood in 20 minutes. They suggest that the new technology, which may be used in other biological fluids, not only represents the first time nanosensors have been used to detect biomarkers in complex fluids but that it could also change the way clinicians test for disease-related biomarkers both in an office setting and potentially in the field.

The developments are reported in Nature Nanotechnology in a paper titled “Label-free biomarker detection from whole blood.”

Devised by scientist from the universities of Yale, Cornell, and Harvard, the new approach involves separate purification and detection stages. A microfluidic purification chip simultaneously captures multiple biomarkers from blood samples and then releases them after washing into purified buffer for sensing by a silicon nanoribbon detector.

Lead researchers, Mark Reed, Ph.D., Yale’s Harold Hodgkinson professor of engineering and applied science, and Tarek Fahmy, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical and chemical engineering, claim that this two-stage approach both isolates the detector from the complex environment of whole blood and reduces its minimum required sensitivity by pre-concentrating the biomarkers. They successfully tested the technology by using it to detect and measure concentrations of a prostate cancer and breast cancer marker in whole blood samples.

Dr. Reed further suggests that the new device could be used to test for a wide range of biomarkers at the same time, from ovarian cancer to cardiovascular disease. “The attractiveness of the method lies in its simplicity, speed, and ability to simultaneously capture multiple biomarkers, enabling multiplexed, highly sensitive downstream detection with label-free sensors,” the researchers note. “The advantage of this technology,” Dr. Reed continues, “is that it takes the same effort to make a million devices as it does to make just one. We’ve brought the power of modern microelectronics to cancer detection.”

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