Advances in research for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer seem unstoppable. However, despite all efforts, this pathology continues to be one of the main causes of mortality worldwide and cases continue to increase. In 2022, according to REDECAN data collected by the Spanish Society of Medical Oncology (SEOM), there were 280,100 new cases in Spain, and predictions are that by 2040 this number will increase by about 22%. To reduce the incidence as much as possible, advances are needed as innovative as this Spanish invention that detects breast cancer in urine and can be used at home.

Thousands of scientists around the world are currently working on this quest, which involves making the diagnostic tests needed to confirm the presence of cancer cells in a patient cheaper and simpler. O Liquid biopsy is the test with the potential to change the paradigm given that It allows, through a small blood sample, to know some of the molecular characteristics of specific types of tumors, but at the moment the equipment is expensive and requires specialized personnel.

In addition to the scandal of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes, convicted of fraud after trying to market a machine that should be able to make a complete diagnosis with a single drop of blood, very promising peer-reviewed research is underway.

[La tirita inteligente que te diagnostica con láser: puede detectar cáncer, infartos y hemorragias]

This is the case of the study presented recently by scientists from the University of Technology in Sydney (UTS), among them the Spaniards David Gallego-Ortega and Laura Rodríguez de la Fuente. Along with other researchers, developed a revolutionary device capable of detecting and analyzing cancer cells from a minimal amount of blood.

liquid biopsy

For decades, many researchers have opted for liquid biopsy as a great alternative to traditional diagnostic methods. In fact, companies like Toshiba have already introduced machines that use microRNA analysis to detect up to 13 types of cancer in an ultra-early phase with an accuracy of 99%although they continue to improve the technology to be able to offer it to hospitals and laboratories.


The Toshiba device that can detect 13 types of cancer

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Along the same lines, the idea behind the Microfluidic Static Drops (SDM) or Static Drop Microfluid developed at UTS, is enable doctors to avoid invasive operations to obtain tumor biopsiessomething common in patients with symptoms of cancer in organs such as the liver, colon or kidney.

In addition, this liquid biopsy technology would also make it easy and inexpensive to monitor the progress of treatment, as has been done by other advances, such as the sensor that reveals in real time whether the drugs against cancer are working. As it does not require surgical intervention and is a low-cost process, SDM can be used to accurately monitor most cancer therapies. Once the treatment has started, it will be possible to know if the tumor is shrinking or if some type of resistance appears, in order to be able to act at the right time in a localized and precise way.


a blood sample

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Professor Majid Warkiani, from the UTS School of Biomedical Engineering and lead author of the study (published in the scientific journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics), notes that “monitoring cancer by evaluating tumor cells in blood samples is much less invasive than taking tissue biopsies. Allows clinicians to repeat tests and monitor patient response to treatment“, while the traditional biopsy implies a greater risk of complications resulting from the surgery, in addition to much higher costs.

How it works

What SDM achieves is rapidly detect circulating tumor cells, those that detach from a primary tumor and enter the bloodstream. To achieve its effectiveness, the device uses a unique metabolic signature of cancer, with the aim of differentiating normal blood cells from tumor cells.

This last cell type is a clear precursor of metastases, responsible for 90% of cancer-associated deaths. The SDM will make it possible to study these cells in depth, a key element in unraveling their complex biology. If we manage to understand metastases, this will be the starting point for new treatments and more effective therapies without harmful side effects for patients.

[Los microrobots que atacan al cáncer navegando por los vasos sanguíneos]

The principle on which the SDM is based has its origin in one of the discoveries of the German physiologist Otto Warburg. In the 1920s, Warburg discovered that cancer cells consume a lot of glucose and produce more lactate than normal cells. “Our device monitors the increase in lactate in individual cells using pH-sensitive fluorescent dyes, which detect acidification around cells,” explains Warkiani.

“A single tumor cell can be found among billions of blood cells in a single milliliter of blood, making it very difficult to locate.” This new detection technology has 38,400 cameras or divisions, which serve to isolate and classify the number of metabolically active tumor cells.


Cancer cells under the microscope

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Once the device identifies the tumor cells, a second phase would involve carrying out genetic and molecular analyzesresponsible for classifying the cancer and helping to develop an accurate diagnosis as well as a personalized treatment plan.

O The advantage of SDM over other liquid biopsy technologies is threefold: Other methods are time consuming, expensive and rely on skilled operators. Thus, this new technology was designed to be easily integrated into clinical laboratories, without the need for state-of-the-art equipment or specialized personnel.

At the moment, the research team of which they are part David Gallego-Ortega and Laura Rodriguez de la Fuente presented a provisional patent for the device and his idea is to market the product in the coming years.

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