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'Lab on a Chip' Might Speed Breast Cancer Monitoring
Date:10/7/2009

Device makes measuring estrogen faster and simpler, researchers say,,,,

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 7 (HealthDay News) -- A pocket-size device under development could soon help monitor how well breast cancer treatments are working and help assess breast cancer risk by measuring levels of the hormone estrogen.

''We've developed a 'lab on a chip,' which is useful for making quantitative measurements of estrogen in samples of blood or tissue," said Aaron Wheeler, the Canada research chair of bioanalytical chemistry at the University of Toronto and a co-author of a report on the device in the Oct. 7 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

The new device relies on a method called digital microfluidics. The technique is being used to analyze hormones found in tiny samples of blood, serum and breast cancer tissue.

Instead of moving electrons across tiny wires, it electronically manipulates minute droplets of fluid on the surface of a microchip, integrating many different lab functions so fewer are needed, Wheeler explained during a teleconference briefing Oct. 6. Hormones are extracted, purified and analyzed. And it's all done on a device that can fit on the palm of the hand, he said.

The "lab on a chip" technique, already under study in other areas, takes raw, unprocessed tissue and delivers results rapidly, Wheeler said. Estrogen can be measured in minutes.

It also requires much tinier samples than those needed by conventional methods, said Dr. Noha Mousa, also a co-author of the report, who is working on her Ph.D. in medicine at the University of Toronto. "This is 1,000 times smaller than the tissue samples required" by other methods, she said.

For their report, the technique was tested on breast tissue from two postmenopausal breast cancer patients.

Estrogen concentrations are not routinely measured because doing so with conventional methods requires large samples, the researchers
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