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Lab-in-a-briefcase enables the measurement of cancer biomarkers in developing countries

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Researchers at Loughborough University (UK) have developed a portable lab-in-a-briefcase, which they hope can increase the early detection of cancer in developing countries. The lab-in-a-briefcase dedicated to the portable measurement of cancer biomarkers was thought up by Loughborough researcher Nuno Reis and can also operate at high temperatures.

Reis’ research has been published in full in the journal Lab on a Chip and it is hoped this technology could be a solution to the lack of diagnostic testing for cancer in developing countries, which have inadequate technology to support full-scale laboratories.

The observed increase in cancer mortality in developing countries is not only due to ageing populations, but also insufficient access to proper diagnostic tools. Approximately 70% of the world’s cancer deaths occur in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, and the number of new cancer cases is expected to rise by 70% over the next two decades.

The lab-in-a-briefcase comprises of four components; a manually driven multi-syringe device capable of performing up to 80 simultaneous tests from whole blood samples at any one time; microwell plates pre-loaded with assay reagents; a portable USB-powered film scanner to image the test strips; and a portable computer for real-time data analysis.

The test takes approximately 15 minutes to perform and the system can be operated by minimally trained individuals, without the need for any additional equipment or instruments. In addition to this, the entire system can be carried in a small briefcase, handbag or laptop case. Another key feature of the lab-in-a-briefcase is that it uses whole blood, with no sample preparation.

The system uses a novel, affordable and disposable microfluidic test strip, which is used specifically for the rapid measurement of different cancer biomarkers in a whole blood sample. Operationally similar to a pregnancy test, this technology has already been utilized by Reis in a previous study that detected prostate cancer with the help of a smartphone camera.

Reis commented: “Our lab-in-a-briefcase is both inexpensive and simple to use; it means that high precision diagnostic kits, complete with clinical laboratory equipment, can be made accessible to remote populations, and this is what makes it a truly life-changing concept for the screening and monitoring of different types of cancer.”

The study was co-funded by Capillary Film Technology Ltd (UK), a developer of low-cost microfluidic fluoropolymer film for life sciences and clinical diagnostics. Although this study focused on rapid detection for prostate cancer, Reis is confident that the microfluidic test strip is versatile enough to measure several cancer biomarkers simultaneously from one whole blood sample.

Sources: Loughborough University unveils world’s first lab-in-a-briefcase; Barbosa AI, Castanheira AP, Edwards AD, Reis NM. A lab-in-a-briefcase for rapid prostate specific antigen (PSA) screening from whole blood. Lab Chip 14(16), 2869–3111 (2014).

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