Nina Welding | May 21, 2019
When an individual has cancer, or any number of other diseases, early detection can make a huge difference in the outcome. A research team led by the University of Notre Dame is working to cut the test time for disease biomarkers. The new timeline — 30 minutes instead of 13 hours — uses even smaller sample sizes to offer a new liquid biopsy option.
The difference is an integrated microfluidics platform developed at Notre Dame that uses extracellular vesicles (EVs) containing microRNAs (miRNAs) as biomarkers for early-stage disease diagnosis.
“Extracellular vesicles contribute to intercellular communication, especially during specific cellular processes such as coagulation or immune responses,” said Hsueh-Chia Chang, co-lead of the study and Bayer Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Notre Dame. “More importantly, we are just now learning that EVs and the microRNA they carry also play a role in disease proliferation. If we can detect them accurately, quickly and cost-effectively, they could very well be the key to early cancer detection.”
Cells secrete EVs, which are easily isolated in bodily fluids such as blood, saliva and even breastmilk.
Chang’s team developed a viable screening tool that significantly improves the inefficiencies of more conventional methods of EV-miRNA analysis.
'“What we’ve developed is essentially a microfluidic chip that takes a small amount of blood plasma and analyzes it for a target EV microRNA in about 30 minutes,” said David Go, Rooney Family Associate Professor of Engineering at Notre Dame and a co-lead on the study. “By using a mechanical piezoelectric device to break open the EVs and an electrical device to detect the microRNA, we remove all the inefficiencies associated with purification, extraction and RNA detection using PCR-based approaches — and it’s a lot faster.”
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