Working on top of technology that was developed four years ago at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, researchers have developed a dime-sized instrument that is able to detect cancer and HIV in patients. The tiny device is capable of quickly detecting cancer cells that may have spread to other parts of a patient’s body using a 1-milliliter sample of blood. Researchers believe this device could be developed to help doctors inexpensively biopsy patients in developing countries where more costly diagnostic equipment is not available.
The technology that this new dime sized device was built upon was developed by Mehmet Toner, professor of biomedical engineering at Harvard Medical School, four years ago. The original device is made of tens of thousands of tiny silicon arms – blood flows through the device and any cancer cells that hit the silicon arms stick. The problem with the device was that there was too much space between the arms and many cancer cells snuck by.
Toner asked Brian Wardle, an MIT associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics, to help him develop a new version of the device — which has turned out to be eight times more effective than the original. The arms are not solid silicon arms but porous carbon nanotubes — up to 100 billion per centimeter — with antibodies attached that attract cancer cells. The blood and cancer cells actually flow through the nanotubes instead of around them making detection more likely. With small blood samples from different parts of a patient’s body, doctors will be able to tell if a cancer has spread further than its original location. “Of all deaths from cancer, 90 percent are not the result of cancer at the primary site. They’re from tumors that spread from the original site,” Wardle says. The researchers are now working on attaching different antibodies to the device to create a version that is capable of detecting HIV.
Lead image by Jmarchn