Some of the deadliest cancers have mostly silent symptoms. By the time people go to their doctors because of worrisome changes, cancer may have already reached a late stage, giving physicians limited treatment options. Scientists are always looking for ways to detect cancer and other diseases through tests that show problems before outward signs appear.
Recently, a research team developed a biochip that detects disease biomarkers in the blood. Through a simple, quick test that analyzes bodily fluids, doctors get alerted to the presence of these biomarkers. Then, it's possible to avoid more complex methods of making diagnoses.
This biochip works through a pinprick test, which is good news for patients who hate more invasive methods of taking blood samples. The blood goes through a microfluidic channel and past a sensing platform. The platform features a coating of biological agents that bind with targeted disease biomarkers. When the chip finds those biomarkers, it triggers a tiny electrical circuit that confirms their presence.
Disease biomarkers are inside the blood plasma, so it's important to point out here that the microfluidic channel in the microchip separates the plasma from the whole blood. Plus, the biochip is a standalone device that analyzes blood in two minutes.
The researchers discovered that gold nanoparticles enhanced the signal sensing capability of this diagnostic gadget. More specifically, they detect those disease biomarkers at the femto scale concentration. That's smaller than nano or pico scale, and 1,000 times tinier than current amounts picked up by sensing technologies.
A detailed research paper explains the worthiness of gold nanoparticles in a biochip to find cancer antigens. But, the team also clarified that the separation of the blood plasma is another aspect that substantially increases the accuracy of their test.
The test can currently measure the quantity and severity of cancer antigens in blood samples. Plans are underway to increase the applications for the biochip, making it able to look for more diseases.
Bharath Babu Nunna was one of the paper's authors. He plans to expand the use of microfluidic platforms like this one but within organs on chips. They recreate the architecture and bodily functions of major organs on microchips. Each microchip includes a transparent, flexible polymer with microfluidic channels containing human cells. They could be alternatives to animal testing.
Nunna will use 3D printing to create the organs used for the chips, including the heart and liver. He will also integrate the biochip mentioned above to provide continuous monitoring.
Then, scientists can study the effects of drugs on those organs without risking human patients. Nunna and his colleagues believe this research could advance regenerative medicine and help address donor shortages when people need organs.
The researchers behind this biochip project envision a future where people can go to their doctors and receive simple blood tests to check for diseases. Moreover, health professionals could process those samples in their offices without needing to rely on outside labs. Getting results quickly brings peace of mind to patients, and equips doctors to start treatments sooner.
Unfortunately, though, the health care structure in the United States has a long-time history of failures. Often, those problems mean that only people with adequate resources receive the health care they need. That reality may make it difficult for the biochip to gain widespread traction in the marketplace.
In 2004, an Illinois judge found that a county in the state violated the rights of Medicare-eligible kids to receive care. More specifically, they did not receive medically necessary care at the level provided to kids with private insurance.
There are also cases of people getting billed thousands of dollars for receiving minimal emergency room care or not getting seen by doctors at all. Many of them fear the potential costs and opt to decline treatment. According to findings from Bankrate, one in four Americans did not receive care because of the expenses. Even people with insurance complain that their deductibles are so high that it's not worth it to go to the doctor.
Patients also receive unexpected bills when discovering that their insurers paid for emergency room visits, but not the treatment provided there by out-of-network doctors. They often have no way of knowing whether the providers they see are in their insurance network, and even if such information were readily accessible, they might be too sick to obtain it.
This biochip research undoubtedly represents progress for advanced disease detection. However, the health care system at large must make extensive functional and ethical improvements to increase access for everyone — not just the people who can afford it.
Written by Kayla Matthews, Productivity Bytes