A small hand-held biosensor is being developed by scientists to enable the easy detection of cancer. Early diagnosis and effective monitoring are two factors which are called for where cancer is concerned. The University of Newcastle's researchers led by Professor Calum McNeil are engaged in developing the device. This will identify cancer markers - proteins or other molecules produced by cancer cells.
It makes use of the same gyroscope technology as navigation systems and car airbags. It could provide specialists with advice about the most appropriate therapy for a particular patient, since the devices could easily be connected to sources of information such as a hospital computer network, the Internet or a mobile phone.
The technology could eventually be developed for a range of other diseases, including those caused by bacteria. Scientists have manufactured discs less than one-tenth of a millimeter in diameter and coated them with special patterns of DNA or proteins, which cause the cancer-specific markers to bind to the surface.
The discs are created in a silicon wafer and made to vibrate electronically in two modes.
When a cancer-specific marker binds to the surface of a disc, in the pattern of the coating, the uneven weight causes one of the modes of vibration to change in frequency. The difference between the frequencies of the two modes of vibration is measured, enabling the detection of tiny amounts of cancer specific marker.
McNeil said: "We are confident that this new technology has the potential to improve the prospects of successful treatment for these cancers. Once the gyroscope technology is fully developed, these miniature machines could prove useful for spotting cancers at an early stage. It's important to work on new ways to diagnose cancer, as early detection is more likely to lead to successful treatment."