Smart Contact Lenses for Cancer Diagnostics and Screening

Scientists from the Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation (TIBI) have developed a contact lens that can capture and detect exosomes, nanometer-sized vesicles found in bodily secretions which have the potential for being diagnostic cancer biomarkers. The lens was designed with microchambers bound to antibodies that can capture exosomes found in tears. This antibody- conjugated signaling microchamber contact lens (ABSM-CL) can be stained for detection with nanoparticle-tagged specific antibodies for selective visualization. This offers a potential platform for cancer pre-screening and a supportive diagnostic tool that is easy, rapid, sensitive, cost-effective, and non-invasive.

Exosomes are formed within most cells and secreted into many bodily fluids, such as plasma, saliva, urine, and tears. Once thought to be the dumping grounds for unwanted materials from their cells of origin, it is now known that exosomes can transport different biomolecules between cells. It has also been shown that there is a wealth of surface proteins on exosomes – some that are common to all exosomes and others that are increased in response to cancer, viral infections, or injury. In addition, exosomes derived from tumors can strongly influence tumor regulation, progression, and metastasis.

Because of these capabilities, there has been much interest in using exosomes for cancer diagnosis and prognosis/treatment prediction. However, this has been hampered by the difficulty in isolating exosomes in sufficient quantity and purity for this purpose. Current methods involve tedious and time-consuming ultracentrifuge and density gradients, lasting at least ten hours to complete.


Nanobiochip Detects Minute Levels Of Disease

The difficulty in spotting minute amounts of disease circulating in the bloodstream has proven a stumbling block in the detection and treatment of cancers that advance stealthily with few symptoms. With a novel electrochemical biosensing device that identifies the tiniest signals these biomarkers emit, a pair of NJIT inventors are hoping to bridge this gap. Their work in disease detection is an illustration of the power of electrical sensing – and the growing role of engineers – in medical research.

Ideally, there would be a simple, inexpensive test – performed at a regular patient visit in the absence of specific symptoms – to screen for some of the more silent, deadly cancers,” says Bharath Babu Nunna, a recent Ph.D. graduate who worked with Eon Soo Lee, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, to develop a nanotechnology-enhanced biochip to detect cancers, malaria and viral diseases such as pneumonia early in their progression with a pin prick blood test.

Their device includes a microfluidic channel through which a tiny amount of drawn blood flows past a sensing platform coated with biological agents that bind with targeted biomarkers of disease in body fluids such as blood, tears and urine – thereby triggering an electrical nanocircuit that signals their presence. In research recently published in Nano Covergence, Nunna and his co-authors demonstrated the use of gold nanoparticles to enhance the sensor signal response of their device in cancer detection, among other findings.

One of the device’s core innovations is the ability to separate blood plasma from whole blood in its microfluidic channels. Blood plasma carries the disease biomarkers and it is therefore necessary to separate it to enhance the “signal to noise ratio” in order to achieve a highly accurate test. The standalone device analyzes a blood sample within two minutes with no need for external equipment.

Our approach detects targeted disease biomolecules at the femto scale concentration, which is smaller than nano and even pico scale, and is akin to searching for a planet in a galaxy cluster. Current sensing technology is limited to concentrations a thousand times larger. Using a nanoscale platform allows us to identify these lower levels of disease,” Nunna says, adding, “And by separating the plasma from the blood, we are able to concentrate the disease biomarkers.”