Paper-Based Cancer Test?

Nanoscale agents that detect disease-associated synthetic biomarkers in urine could one day streamline the diagnosis of tumors, heart disease, and more.

Feb 25, 2014
Jef Akst

WIKIMEDIA, TURBOTORQUEResearchers this week proposed a new technique for diagnosing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in which exogenous agents are injected into the body and serve as synthetic biomarkers that can be detected in urine using a paper strip. Testing their method on mouse models, the researchers were able to “detect diseases as diverse as solid cancer and blood clots using only a single injection of our diagnostic followed by urine analysis on paper,” they wrote in their paper, published yesterday (February 24) in PNAS. If the technique is successfully translated to humans, the platform could support the development of low-cost diagnostics that may be effective early in disease progression.

MIT graduate student Andrew Warren and his colleagues developed nanoparticles that target diseased tissue, such as a tumor, at which point reporter compounds that had been bound to the nanoparticles are released and cleared into the urine. As a proof-of-principle, the researchers designed two synthetic biomarkers—one associated with colorectal cancer and another that was specific to blood clots, a common sign of cardiovascular problems—and demonstrated their ability to detect these compounds in urine from mouse models of these diseases using a paper strip coated with targeted antibodies, a strategy called paper lateral flow assay (LFA).

“Together, the LFA and injectable synthetic biomarkers, which could be tailored for multiple diseases, form a generalized diagnostic platform for NCDs that can be applied in almost any setting without expensive equipment or trained medical personnel,” the researchers wrote.

The team plans to develop the test for human use and launch a spin-out company to commercialize the product, according to New Scientist. If successful, the end result could be something analogous to a pregnancy test, with a line appearing on the paper strip if the biomarkers are present in the urine.