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Indian-American scientist develops paper test for cancer

February 25, 2014 13:00 IST

In a breakthrough, an Indian-American scientist at the prestigious MIT has developed a simple, cheap, paper test that could improve cancer diagnosis rates and help people get treated earlier.

The diagnostic, which works much like a pregnancy test, could reveal within minutes, based on a urine sample, whether a person has cancer, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced on Monday.

This approach has helped detect infectious diseases, and the new technology allows non-communicable diseases to be detected using the same strategy, it said.

The technology, developed by MIT professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator 46-year-old Sangeeta Bhatia, relies on nanoparticles that interact with tumour proteins called proteases, each of which can trigger release of hundreds of biomarkers that are then easily detectable in a patient's urine.

"When we invented this new class of synthetic biomarker, we used a highly specialised instrument to do the analysis," says Bhatia, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

"For the developing world, we thought it would be exciting to adapt it instead to a paper test that could be performed on unprocessed samples in a rural setting, without the need for any specialized equipment. The simple readout could even be transmitted to a remote caregiver by a picture on a mobile phone," Bhatia said in a statement.

Bhatia, a member of MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, is the senior author of a paper describing the particles in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published this week.

The paper's lead authors are graduate student Andrew Warren, postdoc Gabriel Kwong, and former postdoc David Wood. 

Image: Dr Sangeeta Bhatia
Photograph: Bryce Vickmark/MIT

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