Early Disease Detection Without a Microscope

The Nature Nanotechnology journal published research in the October 28 issue that shows a new prototype sensor that may help doctors detect disease with the naked eye instead of having to send away samples to a lab. The team that did the research is from Imperial College in London. They developed these ultra-sensitive sensors to help with the early detection of diverse diseases such as HIV and prostate cancer.

For example, in the tests the sensor was used to identify a marker called p24. When present, this biomarker shows that a person has been infected with HIV. Molly Stevens, a professor at Imperial College, discussed how this test will be particularly beneficial in countries where individuals cannot afford top care and testing procedures, and thus are often unaware that they are infected with a disease for quite some time.

Besides just p24, the research group also explored PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen), which becomes present when a person has prostate cancer. While these were the two ways the prototype was tested, there are other biomarkers that can be looked for to test for numerous other diseases and conditions in a cheap, accurate, and timely way. Once the marker is known, it can be tested for in this fashion.

Basically, a serum of blood is placed in a disposable container to carry out the test. The sensor causes a visible reaction based on the existence of certain markers. For example, if the solution turns blue and clumps irregularly, then p24 is present. This would allow a healthcare professional to see the presence of HIV without sending away blood for a test, and without any other specialized equipment.

The research also showed that the sensor is extremely sensitive and thus would detect the p24 at a much lower level than some of the best lab testing available today. The hope is that this form of testing will catch previously undetectable forms of cancer, HIV, and other conditions at an early stage.

The next step for the research team is to try and team up with a not-for-profit world medical effort to help with production and funding.