A compact device to detect the early signs of cancer

EU-funded project ULTRAPLACAD is developing a low-cost device that can detect the early signs of cancer by analysing blood. The device would allow doctors to screen more patients and provide treatment at an earlier stage of the disease – helping to save lives.

The detection of cancer biomarkers – such as a molecule, gene or protein circulating in a body fluid – can indicate the existence of a tumour in the body. This detection method has however not been widely used mainly due to lack of available low-cost platforms that are sensitive enough to detect the presence of specific cancer biomarkers.

ULTRAPLACAD aims to overcome such barriers by developing a compact device for the detection of cancer biomarkers circulating in the blood. The device could allow doctors to screen more patients and lead to earlier diagnosis of cancer, plus an improvement in follow-up treatments after surgery on tumours.

Healthcare costs for cancer screening and treatment could also be reduced. Cancers at an early stage may be easier to treat, before they spread to other parts of the body. As well as helping to save lives, early detection and treatment could also lead to a reduction in costs for the healthcare system.

ULTRAPLACAD’s device would use a novel diagnostic system based on innovative optical analytical techniques able to detect the presence of cancer in DNA, microRNA and tumour autoantibodies carried by the blood.

The team is focusing on the detection of colorectal cancer by analysing a blood sample of just a few millilitres. It would be an alternative to performing invasive and often painful colonoscopies.

The project’s researchers hope that the method could then be developed further to detect other forms of cancer.

Colorectal cancer accounts for more than half of cancer cases recorded in Europe. Early detection of colorectal cancer through screening has been shown to reduce mortality rates, according to the project.