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How Will Chip-Based Sensor Allow Cancer Detection?

Enterprise Technology Review | Monday, September 14, 2020

Cancer biomarkers present in the urine can be detected using a chip-based sensor that will permit doctors to make accurate decisions, thereby improving personalized diagnosis.

Fremont, CA: Researchers at the University of Twente in the Netherlands have found a non-invasive, inexpensive way to detect cancer from a urine sample. Current methods are expensive and labor-intensive as it involves biopsies and analysis in specialized laboratories. The researchers have used a chip-based sensor with an integrated laser to detect very low levels of a cancer protein biomarker in a urine sample. The new technology allows faster and ultra-sensitive detection of panels of biomarkers. This, in turn, will permit doctors to make accurate decisions in a short time that improve personalized diagnosis and treatment.

A recent study, published in The Optical Society (OSA) journal Optics Letters, showed that the new sensor could perform label-free detection of S100A4, a protein associated with human tumor development, at clinically relevant levels. The biosensor developed could enable point-of-care devices that simultaneously screen for various diseases. Its operation is simple and does not require complicated sample treatments or sensor operation, making it a suitable candidate for clinical applications.

On the other hand, the sensor can also be used for non-biomedical applications, including the detection of different types of gases or liquid mixtures. The chip-based sensor employs Illumination with light from an on-chip microdisk laser to detect the presence of specific molecules in the sample. When the light comes in contact with the biomarker of interest, a shift in the color, or frequency, of the laser light occurs in a detectable way.

Researchers have designed a chip that can perform detection in urine samples by using the photonic material aluminum oxide, doped with ytterbium ions, to fabricate the laser.  This laser can operate in the liquid environment that emits in a wavelength range outside the light absorption band of water while still enabling the precise detection of the biomarkers.

The researchers are further working to incorporate all the relevant optical sources and signal generation components onto the chip to make the device even simpler to operate. They are also looking forward to developing coatings that could allow parallel detection of a large variety of biomarkers.

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