Micro Detection

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Technologies bring new life to cancer diagnostics.

The promise of personalized medicine and a number of new diagnostic technologies, including pharmacogenomics, biomarkers, and in situ hybridization, will be a boon to the cancer market, experts predict. "There is a continuous influx of new tests and technologies coming to the fore for early cancer detection, disease prognosis, therapy selection, and disease monitoring," says a report by Kalorama Information, a research firm in New York City.

As doctors, patients, and regulatory bodies demand greater drug efficacy and safety, especially with drugs that are new to the market, and as payers and others look to reduce healthcare costs, the field of pharmacogenomics—the study of how genetic variation affects an individual's response to drugs—is taking off. Targeting drugs to patients who are most likely to benefit and avoiding those who are most likely to have an adverse reaction can help reach both goals.

"Modern medicine is entering an era where biomedical therapeutics and devices that are directly related to the human genome project and bioinformatics have been commercialized. Genetic and protein biomarkers play a critical role in the appropriate use of this new generation of biotech drugs. These biomarkers permit the earlier diagnosis of diseases, will help determine which therapies will be most effective, and will help physicians monitor the success of the chosen intervention," according to Kalorama's April 2010 report, The World Market for Cancer Diagnostics.

At Yale University in New Haven, CT, researchers are using nanosensors to measure cancer biomarkers. In December 2009, they performed the test in whole blood for the first time. The team used nanowire sensors to detect and measure concentrations of specific biomarkers for prostate cancer and breast cancer. Their findings could dramatically simplify the way physicians test for biomarkers of cancer and other diseases.

Until now, detection methods have only been able to determine whether a certain biomarker is present in the blood at sufficiently high concentrations for the detection equipment to give reliable estimates of its presence. "This new method is much more precise in reading out concentrations and is much less dependent on the individual operator's interpretation," says Tarek Fahmy, PhD, associate professor of biomedical and chemical engineering and one of the researchers on the project.

It would also significantly shorten the time it takes to conduct these tests to just a few minutes—a process that now takes several days.

"Doctors could have these small, portable devices in their offices and get nearly instant readings," Fahmy says. "They could also carry them into the field and test patients on site."

The new device could also be used to test for a wide range of biomarkers at the same time, says Mark Reed, PhD, professor of engineering and applied science at Yale. "The advantage of this technology is that it takes the same effort to make a million devices as it does to make just one. We've brought the power of modern microelectronics to cancer detection."

Gienna Shaw

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