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Test developed to detect early-stage diseases with naked eye

November 01, 2012 03:14 PM EST By: Jennifer Rocha

Scientists have developed a prototype ultra-sensitive sensor that would enable doctors to detect the early stages of diseases with the naked eye.

Story content courtesy of Imperial College, UK

The team, from Imperial College London, report that their visual sensor technology is ten times more sensitive than the current gold standard methods for measuring biomarkers. These indicate the onset of diseases such as prostate cancer and infection by viruses including HIV. 

The researchers say their sensor would benefit countries where sophisticated detection equipment is scarce, enabling cheaper and simpler detection and treatments for patients.

In the study, the team tested the effectiveness of the sensor by detecting a biomarker called p24 in blood samples, which indicates HIV infection.

The sensor works by analysing serum, derived from blood, in a disposable container. If the result is positive for p24 or PSA, there is a reaction that generates irregular clumps of nanoparticles, which give off a distinctive blue hue in a solution inside the container. If the results are negative the nanoparticles separate into ball-like shapes, creating a reddish hue. Both reactions can be easily seen by the naked eye.

The research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and by a European Research Council (ERC) starting investigator grant. The study was also supported by a Marie Curie Intra European Fellowship within the 7th European Community Framework Programme.

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