Scientists from two universities in Ontario, Canada, reported on the progress of their efforts to launch the world’s first portable home test kit designed to detect cancer.
A home screening kit for different types of cancers would be a game changer in the search for more proactive health monitoring. To this end, researchers at McMaster and Brock Universities are developing a device that allows patients to monitor their own blood for unique biomarkers of prostate cancer.
The device works much like the monitors that people with diabetes use to measure their blood sugar levels.
Typically, when patients submit blood samples to a laboratory, doctors will look for specific biomarkers that indicate signs that cancer may be present. These biomarkers are chemicals within the body that can indicate normal or abnormal conditions if they are overrepresented or underrepresented in a blood sample.
A biomarker for prostate cancer, for example, may be the presence of a chemical called prostate specific antigen (PSA). Abnormally high levels of this antigen are an indicator to doctors that prostate cancer may be developing in the patient’s body. Therefore, blood samples taken in the early stages to find high PSA levels can give patients the opportunity to treat cancer more quickly, leading to better results.
The device developed at McMaster and Brock allows users to mix a drop of their blood into a vial containing a reagent liquid prepared by the laboratory. Users then place that mixture on a strip and insert it into the device’s reading system. Then, after just a few minutes, the device measures the presence of PSA and informs the user of the degree to which the cancer may be present.
If users can complete a test like this from the comfort of their home, avoiding going to the doctor’s office, more people could be checking their own health and possibly detecting illnesses at an earlier stage. It would also reduce the number of times patients have to leave home to provide blood samples, once they have been diagnosed.
Leyla Soleymani, McMaster Biomedical Engineer and Canada Research Chair in Miniaturized Biomedical Devices, led the team responsible for the device’s hardware, including the chip that reads the sample.
“This is another step toward truly personalized medicine,” he said in a McMaster statement. “We are moving away from centralized laboratory equipment for this type of testing.”
The researchers also note that this technology can be easily adapted to measure other markers, depending on the form of cancer or other chronic disease. The device would also allow patients to continue to monitor their health after treatment.
Future devices could reasonably search for additional biomarkers that indicate the abnormal conditions of other types of cancer. The team also believes that the technology can be easily adapted to measure indicators of other chronic diseases in addition to cancer. Many diseases can be identified, as the team put it in their academic proof-of-concept publication, using a “biological barcode” approach.
More evidence beyond your proof of concept study it will be necessary before the team can pursue commercial applications. But the development would be a big step forward by increasing the accessibility of proactive, personalized, home health monitoring.
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