Device offers hope for early cancer detection, Japanese researchers say


Staff Writer

Japanese scientists have developed a device that they say detects most kinds of cancer from a drop of blood in only three minutes.

The device uses a biochip, a sensor comprising multiple tiny test sites. It functions by attracting a faintly luminous substance found in cancer patients, even when the cancer is at a very early stage.

Known as Proteo, the chip is the result of collaboration between Kobe-based medical device manufacturer My Tech Inc. and researchers from Showa University.

Yuki Hasegawa of My Tech said the technology boasts great accuracy.

“We diagnosed without any errors whether the tumor is benign or malignant in a study of 20 patients,” he said.

Hasegawa said the researchers are accumulating data from various types of cancers, with the aim of making the blood test available a year from now.

Hiroaki Ito, a researcher from Showa University, said the preliminary data suggests the device could be more accurate and effective than existing blood tests.

“Currently, blood testing can only detect around 10 to 20 percent of cancers. In contrast, we are expecting to detect as much as 90 percent,” Ito said.

Ito and Hasegawa said the accuracy derives from the chip’s characteristic of attracting certain nucleosomes, sets of proteins wrapped inside DNA. Nucleosomes occur in healthy individuals, but the chip only attracts those modified by cancer.

The researchers found that the nucleosome emits light. Although dim, the intensity increases as more of the substance accumulates on the chip and it can easily be seen under a fluorescent microscope. This makes it easy to identify visually if the blood is from an individual with cancer.

The nucleosome that is attracted to the chip is prevalent in all types of cancer, including those of the pancreas, stomach and bowel. Together with the use of laser beam, the chip not only detects the presence of cancer but also tries to narrow down the kind.

Moreover, the substance exists even in a cancer’s early stages, the researchers said, allowing “super-early detection.”

“Currently, most cancers are detectable only after they have developed for 15 to 20 years. Our technology allows diagnosing much earlier than that, even within one year after they develop,” said Hasegawa.