New Paper Test Strips Help to Detect Cancer


MIT engineers have developed new, simple, and inexpensive paper test strips to detect cancer.  This latest technological breakthrough is similar to a pregnancy test.  By obtaining a urine sample, paper test strips can detect cancer within minutes.

The strategy of detecting cancer

Currently, cancer screening approaches, like mammograms and colonoscopies have been instrumental in improving a patient’s outcome when detected early; however, they are expensive and unavailable in remote locations.  This new approach of using paper test strips to detect cancer in a person can also help in identifying infectious diseases.

Paper test strips will initially be used in high-risk populations; that is, people who had family members with the disease, or people who had cancer and are in remission.

How the paper test strips work

The approach to diagnose if a patient has cancer works by receiving hundreds of synthetic biomarkers easily detected in a patient’s urine.  Nanoparticles interact with tumor proteins called protease and trigger the synthetic biomarkers.  Currently, healthcare professionals use the current technique by injecting patients with nanoparticles and then have them urinate on the paper test strip.  Researchers are making the test more suitable by implanting the nanoparticle formation under a patient’s skin for long-term monitoring.  Analyzing the results requires the use of highly specialized instruments.  Unfortunately, developing countries and rural settings find it difficult to buy and use these high-cost, specialized equipment.

MIT professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, Sangeeta Bhatia explains,

“When we invented this new class of synthetic biomarker, we used a highly specialized instrument to do the analysis.  For the developing world, we thought it would be exciting to adapt it instead to a paper test that could be performed on unprocessed samples in a rural setting, without the need for any specialized equipment.  The simple readout could even be transmitted to a remote caregiver by a picture on a mobile phone.”

According to Samuel Sia, associate professor of biological engineering at Columbia University,

“This is a clever and inspired technology to develop new exogenous compounds that can detect clinical conditions with aberrant high protease concentrations.  Extending this technology to detection by strip tests is a big leap forward in bringing its use to outpatient clinics and decentralized health settings.”

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George Zapo, CPH
George Zapo, CPH is certified in Public Health Promotion & Education. George focuses on writing informative articles promoting healthy behavior and lifestyles. Read more of George's articles at his website: