Every year there are 15 million new cancer patients in the developing world, most of whom will never have access to the facilities needed to identify their illness. In an attempt to give these populations a chance at early detection, MIT engineers have developed a simple pee-on-a-stick test that can detect cancer in a matter of minutes.
The test works in conjunction with an injection of iron oxide nanoparticles, which interact with any tumors in the body to trigger the release of hundreds of biomarkers that can be detected in a patient’s urine. A similar idea was tested in 2012, but it required a highly specialized, and expensive, piece of equipment. MIT professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Sangeeta Bhatia explains:
For the developing world, we thought it would be exciting to adapt [the technology] to a paper test that could be performed on unprocessed samples in a rural setting, without the need for any specialized equipment. The simple readout could even be transmitted to a remote caregiver by a picture on a mobile phone.
Based on the early success of the project in mice, MIT has provided Bhatia and her team with a grant from the university’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation. This will provide them with the capital to start their own company, carry out clinical trials, and get the idea to market as fast as possible so that it can start to make a real difference.
Images: MIT/Bryce Vickmark, EMSL