A Stanford University-led research team has developed a prototype blood scanner that can find cancer markers in the bloodstream in early stages of the disease, potentially allowing for earlier treatment and dramatically improved chances of survival. Based on MagArray biodetection chips, the device uses magnetic nanotechnology to spot the cancer proteins. It can find cancer-associated proteins in a blood serum sample in less than an hour, and with much greater sensitivity than existing commercial devices.

The scanner's sensors capture antibodies by grabbing specific cancer-related proteins as they float by and hold onto them. Then, a second batch of antibodies is added to the mix. They latch onto magnetic nanoparticles as well as the cancer biomarkers that are being held captive by the sensors. Thus, when the MagArray sensors detect the magnetic field of nanoparticles, they've found cancer markers as well.

"This is essentially a proof-of-concept study showing that now we have a chip and a reader that can find multiple biomarkers in a sample at a concentration much lower than the standard that is commercially available," said Shan Wang, a Stanford professor of materials science and of electrical engineering. Wang is optimistic that the technology will someday save lives by detecting cancer early or by helping doctors select more effective therapy. "This could be especially helpful for lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and pancreatic cancer, because those cancers are hidden in the body."

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