Magnetic nanotags detect cancer much earlier than current methods

Stanford Professor Shan Wang and graduate student Richard Gaster, left, have developed an early-warning system for cancer (Images: L. A. Cicero)

Extremely sensitive nanosensor chips are being developed by Stanford University researchers in an attempt to detect the early signs of cancer, called biomarkers, in humans.

The researchers say their sensor is around 1,000 times more sensitive than current technology and is accurate regardless of which bodily fluid is being analyzed. It can also detect biomarker proteins over a range of concentrations three times broader than any existing method. It is forecast that earlier detection of cancer biomarkers will lead to improved survival rates among cancer sufferers.

Already shown to be effective in the early detection of tumors in mice, the nanosensor chip can search for up to 64 different proteins and may be helpful in providing radically earlier detection of even the most elusive cancers in humans. Researchers are hopeful that the sensor will detect markers of other diseases, too.

“In the early stage [of a cancer], the protein biomarker level in blood is very, very low, so you need ultra-sensitive technology to detect it,” said Shan Wang, professor of materials science and engineering and of electrical engineering, and senior author of a paper describing the sensor. “If you can detect it early, you can have early intervention and you have a much better chance to cure that person.” The professor’s findings were published online on Nature Medicine’s website during October.

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