Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Diagnosing patients at an early stage

December 7, 2012
Researchers have developed the world's first sensor capable of measuring individual particles in a blood sample.

Norwegian researchers have developed the world's first sensor capable of measuring individual particles in a blood sample.
Credit: Image courtesy of SINTEF

Norwegian researchers have developed the world's first sensor capable of measuring individual particles in a blood sample.

Related Articles

Our blood contains several hundred different proteins that can give us a picture of our general health -- and provide information about the condition of our heart or the presence of cancer. Currently, when we give our doctor a blood sample for a 'full check', it can only be analysed for five or six indicators, such as blood percentages, blood sugar and infections. For other test results, the sample must be sent to a central laboratory for analysis. It can often take as long as a week before the results come back.

Improved sensitivity

Four years ago, SINTEF began a joint project with Stanford University in the USA and the University of Oslo (UiO). The aim was to build a sensor that could improve sensitivity a million fold, making it possible to measure individual particles in the blood, including proteins at extremely low concentrations, as well as DNA and RNA (ribonucleic acid) molecules.

Their work has been able to proceed thanks to internal funding from SINTEF's own Medical ACTION project, government SIP funding (the Strategic Institute Programme), and assistance from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), the University of Bergen (UiB), the University of Zurich and the German research organisation Fraunhofer. The researchers have also been able to use the Norwegian NorFab laboratories.

The result is a new nano-particle sensor developed in MiNaLab in Oslo.

Photonic crystal

The sensor comprises a thin silicon membrane -- about three hundred times thinner than a single hair. It is perforated with hundreds of small holes arranged in a regular pattern.

'We call these structures photonic crystals. The same structures occur naturally in the wings of some butterflies,' says Ib-Rune Johansen at SINTEF ICT. Like his colleagues Jon Olav Grepstad and Michal Mielnik, he believes that they are not exaggerating when they claim that this is "the ultimate bio-sensor -- at the cutting edge of nanotechnology."


One of the properties of the crystal is that it amplifies parts of the light spectrum.

'When we are looking for particles in blood samples, we illuminate the photonic crystal from behind. That way, we can amplify the intensity of light within the membrane by many hundred fold. The crystal is impervious to light: all light is reflected and nothing gets through. Viewed from behind, therefore, the crystal looks like the dark night sky. However, each particle that is captured becomes trapped in a hole in the membrane and allows some light to leak through -- giving it the appearance of a star in the sky,' says Johansen.

'Our breakthrough came with this opportunity to see these microscopic particles,' he tells us.

Early cancer diagnosis

Currently, medical laboratories measure proteins to detect imbalances in the body that occur when an infection is present. The new sensor can take these analyses much further.

SINTEF's chemists are trying to attach receptors to the wall of each of the perforations in the membrane (biofunctionalisation). When blood is pumped through, the receptors trap very specific molecules, depending on what the scientists are looking for. Because the sensor/membrane has many perforations, they can specify a wide range of different proteins. It will thereby be possible to detect illnesses such as prostate and ovarian cancer in their very early stages.

Two challenges overcome

Work on biosensors faces two challenges. The first is to make the sensors sufficiently sensitive. The second is to ensure that they measure what they are supposed to measure. The sensors must be able to differentiate between two particles, and select only those particles that have been specified (specificity). The SINTEF researchers have improved their sensor's sensitivity a million fold compared with ordinary sensors. They can now measure particles down to 20 nanometres.

'Many proteins relevant to diagnosis are in this size range, but many others are even smaller. We can currently detect individual molecules of the larger proteins. We can also detect smaller protein molecules, but not individually, i.e. we need more protein molecules before we can detect them with our sensor. However, the aim is to perfect the sensor's architecture so that in the long term we will also be able to detect individual molecules of even the smallest proteins,' says Michal Mielnik.

The researchers have also discovered a high specificity method, as well as their exceptional specificity method. Patent applications have been filed for both discoveries.

Sensitive -- and cheap.

'We are very optimistic. So far, we have succeeded without a lot of support. However, a great deal of research remains to be done. In order to develop an industrial product, we need assistance from the Research Council of Norway and the EU,' says Ib-Rune Johansen.

In the autumn, they will run artificial blood samples through the membrane, and in the spring, they will run tests using proteins from ovarian cancer.

Perhaps the best news of all is that it will only cost medical centres a few thousand kroner to buy the 'tool' -- consisting of the sensor/membrane, a light source and a standard camera of the type used in mobile phones and PCs.

As well as its impact on medicine, the sensor is likely to make it possible to count and define limits for naturally occurring harmful nanoparticles. It will be possible to monitor the quality of water, air and food.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by SINTEF. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Cite This Page:

SINTEF. "Diagnosing patients at an early stage." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 December 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121207090539.htm>.
SINTEF. (2012, December 7). Diagnosing patients at an early stage. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 31, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121207090539.htm
SINTEF. "Diagnosing patients at an early stage." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121207090539.htm (accessed March 31, 2015).

Share This

More From ScienceDaily

More Matter & Energy News

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Dutch Architects Show Off 3D House-Building Prowess

Dutch Architects Show Off 3D House-Building Prowess

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Mar. 31, 2015) Dutch architects are constructing a 3D-printed canal-side home, which they hope will spark an environmental revolution in the house-building industry. Jim Drury reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Solar Plane Stops in China

Solar Plane Stops in China

Reuters - News Video Online (Mar. 31, 2015) Solar Impulse 2 stops over in China&apos;s Chonqing, completing the fifth leg in its bid to become the first solar powered plane to travel around the globe. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bionic Ants Could Be Tomorrow's Factory Workers

Bionic Ants Could Be Tomorrow's Factory Workers

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Mar. 30, 2015) Industrious 3D printed bionic ants working together could toil in the factories of the future, says German technology company Festo. The robotic insects cooperate and coordinate their actions and movements to achieve a common aim. Amy Pollock reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
You Won't Be Driving Tesla's Mystery Product

You Won't Be Driving Tesla's Mystery Product

Newsy (Mar. 30, 2015) Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a new product line will debut April 30, but it&apos;s not a car. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.


Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News


Free Subscriptions

Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile

Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?

Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins