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Saturday, October 4, 2008

New technology promises tests for diseases such as cancer in 15 minutes

Scientists at Leeds University in the UK say soon, testing for diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis, could take as little as 15 minutes and could be as simple as using a pregnancy testing kit.

The team of scientists have developed a biosensor technology that uses antibodies to detect biomarkers - molecules in the human body which are often a marker for disease - and they do it much faster than current testing methods.

They say the technology could be used in doctors' surgeries for more accurate referral to consultants and in hospitals for rapid diagnosis.

Tests already conducted have shown that the biosensors can detect a wide range of analytes (substances being measured), including biomarkers present in prostate and ovarian cancer, stroke, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and fungal infections.

The team also believes that the biosensors are versatile enough to test for diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV.

The technology is the result of a collaboration of European researchers and commercial partners in a 2.7 million Euro project called ELISHA and features new techniques for attaching antibodies to innovative surfaces, and novel electronic measurement methods that need no reagents or labels.

ELISHA was co-ordinated by Dr. Paul Millner from the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds, and managed by colleague Dr. Tim Gibson.

Dr. Millner says they believe this to be the next generation of diagnostic testing as it is now possible to detect almost any analyte faster, cheaper and more easily than the current accepted testing methodology.

Current blood and urine are tests for disease markers takes an average of two hours to complete, is a costly process and can only be performed by highly trained staff.

The Leeds team believe their new technology, which provides results in 15 minutes or less - could be developed into a small device the size of a mobile phone into which different sensor chips could be inserted, depending on the disease being tested for.

Dr. Millner says they have designed simple instrumentation to make the biosensors easy to use and understand, which will work in a format similar to the glucose biosensor testing kits that diabetics currently use.

Professor Séamus Higson, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Biosciences, Cranfield Health, and one of the partners within the ELISHA programme, says the speed of response this technology offers will be of great benefit to early diagnosis and treatment of many diseases, and will permit testing in de-localised environments such as GP's surgeries.

A tangent company - ELISHA Systems Ltd - has been established by Dr. Gibson, commercial partners Uniscan Instruments Ltd and Technology Translators Ltd to bring the technology to the market.

Dr. Gibson says the analytes used in the research simply scratch the surface of the potential applications - the team have also shown that it can be used in environmental applications, for example to test for herbicides or pesticides in water and antibiotics in milk.

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