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Biotech Innovations
May 14, 2019

Novel Nanochip Paves Way for Early Ovarian Cancer Detection

JAMA. 2019;321(18):1759. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.5460

Currently, no ovarian cancer screening test with high sensitivity and specificity exists. In a recent proof-of-concept study published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, a uniquely designed microfluidic nanochip detected low levels of ovarian cancer–associated markers in blood. If validated in large trials, the technology could be used for early detection of the cancer, which is currently diagnosed at late clinical stages in approximately 85% of patients.

Peng Zhang, PhD, and Yong Zeng, PhD/The University of Kansas

Compared with a commercial 96-well plate enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) kit, the new test “profoundly improved” the detection of ovarian cancer cases using one-fifth of the blood plasma in one-tenth of the time, the authors wrote. The nanochip uses nanoporous 3-dimensional herringbone structures to increase the detection of small amounts of circulating exosomes, tiny membrane vesicles carrying tell-tale molecules from parent cells.

The herringbone nanochip detected exosomes expressing folate receptor alpha, a protein associated with ovarian cancer, in 2-µL patient plasma samples, a feat that neither the commercial ELISA kit nor a conventional microfluidic device achieved. The protein was detectable only in samples from patients with cancer, including those with early-stage disease, raising the possibility that it could be used as a high-specificity biomarker.

The researchers have since created a chip to simultaneously measure 8 exosomal protein markers, potentially enabling its use for detecting other cancers, according to the study’s senior author, Yong Zeng, PhD, of the University of Kansas.

“Ultrasensitive molecular analysis of tumor-related exosomal markers in blood provides the possibility to detect, classify, and monitor the tumors in the early stages,” Zeng told JAMA. “This is essential to providing clinically meaningful diagnostic power and lead time for effective intervention.”