MIT engineering way to test for cancer at home

BOSTON — “A simple urine test” could soon be enough to get a life-saving diagnosis.

MIT researchers have crafted a new sensor designed to detect cancerous proteins. After peeing on the sensor, the results could then be used to determine the exact type of tumor or analyze how it is responding to treatment.

The researchers designed the tests to be done on a strip of paper, similar to the at-home COVID tests everyone became familiar with during the pandemic. They hope to make it as affordable and accessible to as many patients as possible.

“We are trying to innovate in a context of making technology available to low- and middle-resource settings. Putting this diagnostic on paper is part of our goal of democratizing diagnostics and creating inexpensive technologies that can give you a fast answer at the point of care,” says Sangeeta Bhatia, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science.

In tests with mice, sensors were able to detect enzyme activity from lung cancer tumors. The MIT engineers also believe their approach can be scaled up to distinguish 46 different DNA barcodes in a sample.

“Our goal here is to build up disease signatures and to see whether we can use these barcoded panels not only read out a disease but also to classify a disease or distinguish different cancer types,” said Liangliang Hao, a former MIT research scientist and lead author on the study.

The researchers are working on further developing the particles in order to test them in humans.

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