The difficulty in spotting minute amounts of disease circulating in the bloodstream has proven a stumbling block in the detection and treatment of cancers that advance stealthily with few symptoms. With a novel electrochemical biosensing device that identifies the tiniest signals these biomarkers emit, a pair of NJIT inventors are hoping to bridge this gap. There could therefore be a simple, inexpensive test performed at a regular patient visit in the absence of specific symptoms to screen for some of the more silent, deadly cancers — to have a nanotechnology-enhanced biochip to detect cancers, malaria, and viral diseases such as pneumonia early in their progression, with a pin prick blood test.
The two researchers have come up with a device that includes a microfluidic channel through which a tiny amount of drawn blood flows past a sensing platform coated with biological agents that bind with targeted biomarkers of disease in body fluids such as blood, tears, and urine. This will trigger an electrical nanocircuit that signals their presence.
One of the device’s core innovations is the ability to separate blood plasma from whole blood in its microfluidic channels. Blood plasma carries the disease biomarkers, so it is necessary to separate it to enhance the “signal to noise ratio” in order to achieve a highly accurate test. The standalone device analyzes a blood sample within two minutes with no need for external equipment.
The next step involves using microfluidic platforms for devices that will automate the process of bioprinting 3D organs to be incorporated on a chip for a number of purposes. One example is to develop an automated platform for long-term drug efficacy and toxicity analysis to track liver cancer and cardiac biomarkers. The microfluidic biosensor will then be integrated with a liver cancer and heart-on-a-chip model for continuous monitoring. By measuring the biomarker concentrations secreted from drug-injected 3D-bioprinted organs, the drug effects on several organs can then be studied without harming a live patient.
Down the road, this research could potentially be applied in regenerative medicine. The goal would be to develop fully functional 3D-bioprinted organoids and clinically relevant 3D tissues to address the issue of donor shortages in transplantation.