Tracking chemical signals within the cells by a new device can now detect the initiation of cancerous growth.
A team of biomedical engineers from the University of Toronto harnessed the emerging power of digital micro fluidics to look into the responses of different cells.
The technique involves shuttling tiny drops of water around on a series of small electrodes that looks like a miniature checkerboard. The team was able to increase the speed at which chemical changes can be detected by a factor of 100.
"By applying the right sequence of voltages, we can create electric fields that attract and move around droplets containing any chemical solution," said Alphonsus, lead author of the study
Certain signaling chemicals known as hormones tell various cells when to grow divide and proliferate throughout the human body. But all cells do not respond to these signals in the same manner.
The internal chemical response of a cell can cause unregulated cell growth, leading to cancer. "Roughly 10 percent of the cells had a very rapid and strong response that we could detect up to five minutes before the rest of the population," the authors said.