Early detection of cancer is often crucial to patient survival, but in many parts of the world people just can’t afford the cost of an expensive diagnosis. To combat the rise of cancer rates in developing countries, MIT engineers have developed a revolutionary paper-based urine test that could cheaply and effectively diagnosis whether a person has cancer in mere minutes. The test, which works similarly to a pregnancy test, uses synthetic biomarker technology to eliminate the need for expensive, specialized equipment.
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Developed by MIT professor Sangeeta Bhatia, the synthetic biomarker technology works by injecting a nanoparticle solution into the patient, who will then urinate on a paper test strip. The nanoparticles will bind together with the tumor proteins to produce cancer-indicative biomarkers that are easily detectable in the urine. To keep costs low, the researchers adopted the technology used in pregnancy tests, known as lateral flow assay, which will turn the paper different colors depending on the presence of biomarkers.
Although the technology has not yet been approved for human use, researchers have successfully tested the paper strips in animal studies. Bhatia’s research team, which is working to commercialize the technology, hope to see cancer-detecting test strips used for early detection throughout developing countries. “I think it would be great to bring it back to this setting, where point-of-care, image-free cancer detection, whether it’s in your home or in a pharmacy clinic, could really be transformative,” says Bhatia to the MIT News Office.