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Paper Test Strips Devised to Diagnose Cancer, Blood Clots

Sangeeta Bhatia

Sangeeta Bhatia (Bryce Vickmark, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

25 February 2014. Biomedical engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed and tested with lab mice a simple, inexpensive paper test strip system to diagnose non-communicable diseases. The team led by medical engineering professor Sangeeta Bhatia published its  findings online yesterday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (paid subscription required).

Early detection of disease is highly recommended to improve a patient’s chances of a favorable outcome, but in many places access to imaging equipment used for disease screening, such as mammography, is limited. The MIT team, with colleagues from Harvard Medical School and University of Minnesota, sought a simpler system to detect indicators of non-communicable diseases at the point of care.

Paper strips are being designed to diagnose infectious diseases using fluid samples, such as urine or nasal swabs, for sites with limited access to more advanced technology, and the MIT researchers extend that idea to cover non-communicable diseases. Their approach uses nanoscale particles interacting with biomarkers or indicators of disease in a patient’s urine causing a visible change in the paper test strips.

To release the biomarkers, Bhatia and colleagues coated nanoparticles with protein fragments that target the sites in the body, where diseases are likely to occur. The nanoparticles with protein fragments, known as peptides, are given to the patients. When in the body, the nanoparticles help break loose and bind with the disease biomarkers that then collect in the kidneys and are passed in the urine.

The test strips are coated with various antibodies to first capture the peptides, and then test for the presence of the disease biomarkers. If the antibody lines become visible on the test strips, they indicate the presence of the disease biomarker in the urine. In tests with lab mice, the researchers report the test strips accurately identify colon tumors and blood clots.

The researchers say different antibodies can be placed in lines on the test strips to detect multiple diseases or different stages of a disease. This capability makes it possible to develop a general diagnostic platform for non-communicable diseases, which could be administered by medical staff without extensive training. Results from the tests could be captured with photos of test strips taken by mobile phones, then sent to specialists or filed with medical records.

The next step, say the researchers, is to test the system with human patients. Bhatia and colleagues plan to commercialize the diagnostics, and in October 2013 received a grant from MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation to write a business plan for advancing the technology to clinical trials.

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