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Diagnostics Digital and computational pathology, Microscopy and imaging, Oncology, Precision medicine, Technology and innovation

Biosensors for the Future

A Sensor to Take Your Breath Away

Early-stage lung cancer, one of the most common and aggressive cancers, kills around 1.4 million people worldwide every year – so the pursuit of new techniques to accurately detect it remains a global challenge. Now, a highly sensitive graphene biosensor has shown potential in electronic nose devices, which analyze the components of vapor mixtures such as breath. Multi-layered graphene can detect biomarkers selectively and sensitively, providing hope that a cheap, reusable, and accurate breath test for early-stage lung cancer could become a reality (1).

Sensing the Spread

Artificial intelligence could soon be used to predict the spread of melanoma by using microscopic cameras to analyze the appearance and behavior of cells. The technique, called quantitative live cell histology, was recently presented at the American Society for Cell Biology/EMBO conference. By building a representation of the functional state of individual cells, the technology can predict the likelihood that a stage III melanoma will progress to stage IV. The computer model can also distinguish between cancer cells taken from different patients (2).

No Time to Waste

A new screening method that uses sensor particles and a urine test could reveal solid organ transplant rejection sooner than ever – and without a needle biopsy. When an organ is rejected, T cells secrete granzyme B, an enzyme that severs amino acid strands in the organ’s cells and triggers apoptosis. Now, intravenously injected nanoparticles that possess the targets of granzyme B’s amino acids can release reporter molecules once rejection begins. These are small enough to pass out of the body and emit a fluorescent signal in urine. After successfully validating the technique in a mouse model, the researchers are now looking to begin human trials (3).

Real-Time Robot for Reproductive Hormones

Robotic sensor technology that can be used to measure hormones quickly and cheaply could pave the way for the diagnosis of reproductive health issues in real time. Current blood tests that analyze the amount of luteinizing hormone (LH) in patient samples cannot easily account for fluctuation, which is vital for assessing fertility and reproductive disorders. The team behind the Robotic APTamer-enabled Electrochemical Reader (RAPTER) hope to develop the biosensor for hormone monitoring in vivo, giving clinicians a clearer picture of LH pulsatility (4).

Slipping Through the Net

New estimates indicate that nearly half of childhood cancers worldwide go undiagnosed and untreated (5). Current records state that around 200,000 new cases of cancer arise annually in children – but there may be almost twice as many. Modeling suggests that undiagnosed cases in Africa, South Central Asia, and the Pacific Islands account for over half of the total. On the other hand, only three percent of total cases remain undiagnosed in North America and Europe. Perhaps most alarming of all, the study estimates that, if no improvements are made, almost three million cases of childhood cancer will be missed between 2015 and 2030.

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  1. E Kovalska et al., “Multi-layer graphene as a selective detector for future lung cancer biosensing platforms”, Nanoscale, 11, 2476–2483 (2019). PMID: 30672548.
  2. A Zaritsky, “Live cell histology for classification of melanoma cell population based on single cell actions”. Presented at the ASCB | EMBO 2018 Meeting; December 8, 2018; San Diego, USA.
  3. QD Mac et al., “Non-invasive early detection of acute transplant rejection via nanosensors of granzyme B activity”, Nat Biomed Eng, [Epub ahead of print] (2019).
  4. S Liang et al., “Measuring luteinising hormone pulsatility with a robotic aptamer-enabled electrochemical reader”, Nat Commun, [Epub ahead of print] (2019). PMID: 30787284.
  5. ZJ Ward et al., “Estimating the total incidence of global childhood cancer: a simulation-based analysis”, Lancet Oncol, [Epub ahead of print] (2019). PMID: 30824204.
About the Author
Luke Turner

While completing my undergraduate degree in Biology, I soon discovered that my passion and strength was for writing about science rather than working in the lab. My master’s degree in Science Communication allowed me to develop my science writing skills and I was lucky enough to come to Texere Publishing straight from University. Here I am given the opportunity to write about cutting edge research and engage with leading scientists, while also being part of a fantastic team!

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