Cheap urine test for cancer could be available soon

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Researchers develop cheap urine test that successfully detected cancer in mice.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed an inexpensive urine test, similar to a home pregnancy test, which may be able to detect cancer.

The research team calls it “a big leap forward” because cancer rates are increasing worldwide, but diagnosing the disease can be difficult in poor countries where the availability of expensive diagnostic tools like mammograms and colonoscopy are lacking.

The test created by the team uses injected nanoparticles to locate cancer tissue, producing a biomarker in urine that can be detected on paper strips within minutes, much like a home pregnancy test.

The research team’s findings are reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), including the new method they used to test mice with a single injection and a paper-strip urine analysis that effectively detected solid cancer, as well as other health conditions like blood clots.

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After conducting the test on mice, the team concluded that an inexpensive diagnostic test for detecting a variety of diseases could be created – without requiring any expensive equipment or a team of trained medical professionals – which could prove invaluable in those areas of the world that have a poor infrastructure and limited resources.

Senior author and MIT professor Sangeeta Bhatia is developing the test, saying that when the team invented a new class of synthetic biomarker, which uses a “highly specialized instrument” for the analysis, they thought it would exciting for the developing world to instead adapt it to a paper test so it could be used in rural areas without any specialized diagnostic equipment.

Prof. Bhatia added that even the readout from the test was simple enough that it could be transmitted to a remote caregiver on a mobile phone.

The injected nanoparticles used in the test to find diseased tissue intermingles with tumor proteins that generate several hundred synthetic biomarkers that can easily be detected in urine. Combined with the paper strips, the nanoparticle injections were shown to successfully detect diseased tissue in mice.

Accordingly, Prof. Bhatia says the next step will be using the test in humans.

SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Point-of-care diagnostics for noncommunicable diseases using synthetic urinary biomarkers and paper microfluidics; Andrew D. Warren, Gabriel A. Kwong, David K. Wood, Kevin Y. Lin, and Sangeeta N. Bhatia; published February 24, 2014 (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1314651111).