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Tiny Device Could Speed Breast Cancer Detection: Study

by VR Sreeraman on October 8, 2009 at 1:00 PM
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 Tiny Device Could Speed Breast Cancer Detection: Study

In a move to quicken detection for women at risk of breast cancer, Canadian researchers said they had developed a hormone testing technique that could eventually be used in a handheld device.

While the results are several years away from usage, the new "lab-on-a-chip" technique developed at the University of Toronto can analyze "tiny samples of blood and breast tissue to identify women at risk of breast cancer much more quickly than ever before," researchers said.

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Hormone estrogen concentration in breast tissue are known to be significantly increased in breast cancer patients compared to healthy women, and so is believed to increase the risk of breast cancer.

The research group developed a technique where tiny fluid samples are manipulated electrically on the surface of a microchip, a type of technology sometimes called a "lab-on-a-chip."
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"Breast estrogen levels in women at risk are not routinely measured because conventional techniques require large tissue samples obtained through invasive biopsies," said top gynecologist and lead author Noha Mousa.

The research was first released October 7 in the online journal Science Translational Medicine.

"We applied this technique for the first time to analyze hormones in tiny clinical samples -- we looked at blood, serum and breast cancer tissue," said Aaron Wheeler director of the Wheeler Microfludics lab in the university's chemistry department.

"We developed methods to move droplets of several different kinds of reagents -- a substance consumed during a chemical reaction -- to extract hormones and purify them: all on a device that can fit into the palm of a hand."

After further development, Wheeler said, the method could be developed for routine hormone screenings.

Such a move could have many applications, such as other types of cancer.

It could also "help in monitoring hormone levels in infertility treatments and in detecting illegal doping in athletes," added Wheeler.

The research team is set to begin measuring estrogen in a clinical trial involving more than 200 Canadian women at high risk of developing breast cancer.

Source: AFP
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