A device that uses a single blood drop to determine whether a patient has a melanoma, and, possibly, at what stage, is being developed by an international research team that includes researchers from the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences led by the researcher Jakub Dostálek. As part of the VerSiLiB project, they are building a device capable of capturing and detecting even very small amounts of molecules produced by tumour cells, which can be used as biomarkers. The new device will contribute to timely diagnostics of the disease, and, at the same time, will help monitor if the subsequent treatment has been successful.
The device for non-invasive diagnostics, which is known as liquid biopsy, combines the analysis of tumour biomarkers based on nucleic acids, and protein analysis in a single universal and a very sensitive test. This represents a decisive shift in cancer detection as the high sensitivity down to the level of individual molecules has until now been only possible for tumour cell nucleic acids.
“The resulting device will be the first one ever to combine a DNA analysis with protein biomarker analysis. It will employ a newly developed AMT method (Affinity Mediated Transport), which uses no enzymes to amplify the sample response. This is why, it is significantly faster and more accurate than any other standard technology,” says JakubDostálek, the leader of the project research team from the Institute of Physics.
The functioning of the device will be based on a mass-produced microchip manufactured using a roll-to-roll method, whereby the microchip is printed on a flexible plastics roll. It will integrate functions to stimulate a desired motion of the studied sample around the surface of the device to capture biomarkers discharged into plasma by tumour cells, and to optically amplify the signal in order to read the response sensitively at the level of individual molecules. The microchip surface will be sub-divided into a large number of miniature sensors, each of which will enable the amplification of the signal sufficiently as soon as some of the bio-markers are captured on the surface. The microchip will be scanned by a special, tailor-made version of a fluorescence microscope that will determine whether or not, and, possibly, how many biomarkers have been captured.
The Jakub Dostálek’s team assignment will consist of designing and assembling the microscope with required sensitivity, and of developing nanophotonic elements to be integrated into the microchip to amplify the signal. The team will also take part in the characterization of a biointerface to be used to capture the target biomarkers at the microchip surface. In addition, the system will be modifiable to detect other major diseases, including neurodegenerative disorders, immune system and cardiovascular diseases, as well as viral diseases.
“I am extremely delighted to see that our researchers participate in such ambitious multidisciplinary projects that can potentially lead to a revolution in medicine. This demonstrates the excellent international reputation that the Institute of Physics has earned,“says Alexandr Dejneka, The Optics Division Head of the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences, under which the Czech part of the project is being implemented.
Apart from Czech researchers, the projects has also involved researchers from Finland, Austria, and Italy. The participating institutions include the Technical Research Centre of Finland, Austrian Institute of Technology, University of Catania, The Regina Elena National Cancer Institute as well as from two private businesses – Finnadvance and Procomcure. The last two entities have been working to develop polymer microchips, and biomaterials needed for the research. The 4-year project is funded by the European Council for Innovation, which is one of the instruments provided by the European Union.