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New optical sensing research could lead to faster detection of cancer markers

Published: 18 November 2013

Pioneering research by the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) that could transform the care of cancer patients or people with infections in their own homes has received a significant grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Senior Research Fellow Dr Collin Sones and Professor Rob Eason are working with colleagues from Medicine and the Institute of Life Sciences; Dr Spiros Garbis, Professor Peter Smith and Professor Saul Faust, to develop laser-printed paper-based sensors that can be used to detect biomarkers in cancer patients and see how they are responding to their chemotherapy treatment.

The team has been awarded over £230,000 EPSRC funding to explore whether Laser-Induced Forward Transfer (LIFT) printing of biological materials can be used to develop the sensor device on paper.

The research aims to develop paper-based sensors that are robust, inexpensive, user-friendly, disposable, and easy to deliver wherever the patient might be.

These sensors would be telemedicine-enabled allowing transfer of valuable clinical diagnostic information between patients and their care team through the use of mobile phones. These personalised tests will be possible while maintaining security and anonymity of their results through laser-printed 2D bar codes of biological material that change colour depending on the result.

Collin said: “The funding is recognition of the impact laser-printed, paper-based biosensors will be able to make towards saving human lives by making possible rapid, remote and real-time diagnosis of many targeted diseases. The paper-based sensors would enable diagnosis at an early stage, from a patient’s bedside in the comfort of their own home, without the need for either specialised equipment or trained medical personnel.

“This research is a very important step for the ORC. It is a completely new area for us and is the beginning of our collaborative cross-disciplinary work with our colleagues in Medicine and the Institute of Life Sciences. Once we prove that laser printing works, and we can develop a paper-based sensor, then this has the potential to revolutionise medical treatment as the technology can be used to make devices for a whole range of other conditions.”

The biomarkers for breast cancer have already been identified and validated in a pilot study by academics in Medicine and the Institute of Life Sciences. These are now being used to study the response of patients receiving chemotherapy.

If successful, these paper-based sensors would prove invaluable in rapidly testing for detection and diagnosis of conditions including cancer and infectious diseases such as influenza, HIV and tuberculosis. They would allow the rapid testing for these conditions in a safe, inexpensive and flexible way that would have enormous benefits in time, cost and improvement of patient care.

The research will continue over 18 months.

Learn more about this research and its spin-out opportunity.

Find out more about LIFT (Laser-Induced Forward Transfer).

For more on Collin Sones.

Link to EPSRC grant information.

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