WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 (Xinhua) -- Researchers at the University of Kansas invented a sensitive device that may detect cancer and other diseases quickly from a droplet of blood.
The study published on Monday in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering reported the "lab-on-a-chip" device that could detect the tumor cells' exosomes or tiny parcels of their biological information to promote tumor growth.
Exosomes were previously believed to be "trash bags" used by cells to dump unwanted cellular contents, but scientists came to realize that tumors could send out exosomes packaging molecules that mirror biological features of the parental cells, according to the study.
The researchers led by Zeng Yong, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Kansas, used 3D nano-engineering method to make the device that can push exosomes into contact with the chip's sensing surface.
When exosomes are moving closer to the sensor surface, they tend to be separated by a small gap of liquid, but the device managed to enable the contact much more efficiently than before due to its herringbone pattern, according to Zeng.
Zeng's team developed a nano-porous herringbone structure that can drain the liquid in that gap and bring the particles in hard contact with the surface, a process like draining water in a kitchen sink.
The researchers tested the chip's design using clinical samples from ovarian cancer patients, and they found that the chip could detect the presence of cancer in a minuscule amount of plasma.
Also, the chips could be cheap and easy to make, allowing for wider and less-costly testing for a host of other diseases.
"Almost all mammalian cells release exosomes, so the application is not just limited to ovarian cancer or any one type of cancer," said Zeng. "We're working with people to look at neurodegenerative diseases, breast and colorectal cancers."