Dickherber and his colleagues developed the ACuRay (Acoustic micro-array) chip, a tiny device that should be able to be mass produced at low cost.
"Incredible advances in the past 30 to 40 years in microelectronic fabrication has driven costs down to be able to mass produce integrated circuits, so we were thinking there has to be a way to leverage that to make disposable sensors to detect things at low concentrations," Dickherber said.
The ACuRay is not unlike sonar. Tiny particles are resonating back and forth at a very high rate. When the molecule the scientists are trying to detect binds to the surface of the device, the particles slow down. "It's that difference that we can detect electrically," Christopher Corso, the other graduate student engaged in the project and an M.D., Ph.D. student, said.
The challenge now is to make them work for different, specific purposes.
"We probably still have a couple of months left of optimizing the design so that we can move on to looking for new targets and trying to detect them," Dickherber said.
"The reason for the optimization is to make the device as sensitive as possible," Corso added.
Cancer is one problem for which the device might provide a solution. But environmental hazards and bioterror could be others.
The second study also addressed the early-detection problem, this time specifically for lung cancer, the leading cancer killer in the United States.
The five-year survival rate for lung cancer, which is rarely detected early, is a very low 15 percent. But, if detection can be made early, survival rates of 50 percent have been seen.
Researchers from Panacea Pharmaceuticals of Gaithersburg, Md., have developed a blood test that targets a protein called human aspart
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