Lab-On-a-Chip Technology Could Potentially Detect Asymptomatic Cancer

The new technology can separate bioparticles for improved cancer detection.

Researchers from IBM recently created a lab-on-a-chip tool that can separate biological particles on a nanoscale, and could potentially help physicians detect cancer and other diseases earlier.

The tool can separate bioparticles down to 20 nanometers (nm) in diameter and can allow physicians to access DNA, viruses, and exosomes, according to a study published by Nature Nanotechnology. Current on-chip technology can only separate bioparticles about 50 times larger than the new technology.

Exosomes are useful as cancer biomarkers that are easily accessibly in bodily fluids, and can be used as a liquid biopsy. Since they contain information about the cell they originated from, exosomes are useful for determining cancer origination.

Their surface proteins and nucleic acid cargo also indicate information about cancer and other diseases. In the study, researchers were able to detect and separate particles as small as 20 nm.

Further studies plan to confirm that this on-chip device can detect exosomes with cancer-specific biomarkers, according to the study.

“The ability to sort and enrich biomarkers at the nanoscale in chip-based technologies opens the door to understanding diseases such as cancer as well as viruses like the flu or Zika,” said Gustavo Stolovitzky, Program Director of Translational Systems Biology and Nanobiotechnology at IBM Research. “Our lab-on-a-chip device could offer a simple, noninvasive and affordable option to potentially detect and monitor a disease even at its earliest stages, long before physical symptoms manifest. This extra amount of time allows physicians to make more informed decisions and when the prognosis for treatment options is most positive.”