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Combination of photonic sensors and microfluidics could detect cancer markers within 20 minutes
Feb. 01 2024

Combination of photonic sensors and microfluidics promises to detect cancer markers within 20 minutes
Study co-author and Skoltech PhD student Aleksei Kuzin posing next to a measurement stand. He is holding the photonic chip that is the sensing component in the new diagnostic platform. Credit: Aleksei Kuzin/Skoltech

Russian scientists have proposed a new promising rapid way to diagnose breast cancer. It will spot the disease based on a blood test that takes between 15 and 20 minutes. The solution can be adapted to spot other diseases, too. Once that is accomplished, it could even enable simultaneous screening for multiple diseases.

In further developing the method, its creators will have to consider its affordability and compatibility with the medical equipment routinely used in clinics, experts noted. The study is published in Applied Physics Letters.

Skoltech researchers and their colleagues from MISIS University, (V.I. Kulakov National Medical Research Center for Obstetrics, Gynecology and Perinatology) and Shemyakin-Ovchinnikov Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences have developed methods for diagnosing breast cancer markers in a very short time frame. Importantly, the solution requires a very small blood sample.

According to its creators, supersensitive systems such as the one presented in the study will allow the disease to be spotted early on. This will ensure there is enough time to avert dire consequences and will enable treatment efficiency to be assessed.

The blood test runs on a microchip, which spots biomarkers of the disease. These are bubbles 20 to 150 nanometers in size, known as small extracellular vesicles (sEVs). They are involved in transporting substances and communication processes between cells in the body. Present in the blood and other bodily fluids, sEVs contain various kinds of molecules that indicate breast cancer and its progression depends on their concentration.

As the authors explained, the currently-used approach to measuring sEVs level relies on costly antibodies produced in animals. This conventional method is therefore expensive and time-consuming, because of the bodily fluid preparation involved. Further complications result from antibodies being unstable. The new solution provides an alternative.

"To determine vesicle concentration, our solution uses photonic microsensors. These are microchips where signals are carried by photons, the light particles. The fluid to be analyzed passes along a channel of an extremely small diameter, whose wall is treated with special 'target' molecules [DARPins] in the region where the microfluidic channel intersects with the waveguide carrying light," one of the technique's creators, Skoltech Ph.D. student Aleksei Kuzin, explained.

"The vesicles passing by stick to those molecules, and the more of them there are, the more they affect the way light travels along the waveguide. This effect can be measured."

According to the researcher, the advantage of the approach is that the molecules deposited on microchannel walls are smaller and cheaper than antibodies, and the photonic integrated circuits have a fairly straightforward design. This will enable their mass production down the road. The new technique for breast cancer screening could make the procedure more affordable and widely available.

Kuzin explained that the microtubes in the device are washable and the active layer of the sensor can be redeposited for repeated use.

More information: A. Kuzin et al, Real-time surface functionalization of a nanophotonic sensor for liquid biopsy, Applied Physics Letters (2023). DOI: 10.1063/5.0167631

Provided by Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology

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