A prototype blood scanner detects cancer-associated biomarkers using the same magnetic phenomenon that allows hard drives to read and write data. Developed at Stanford University, the system is reportedly tens to hundreds of times more sensitive than existing commercial devices, which would enable it to detect cancer at a very early stage. “The earlier you can detect a cancer, the better chance you have to kill it,” says Shan Wang, a Stanford professor of materials science and of electrical engineering who played an integral role in developing the device. “This could be especially helpful for lung cancer, ovarian cancer and pancreatic cancer, because those cancers are hidden in the body.”
Magnetic protein detection could yield a clearer signal than methods developed to detect cancer proteins by tagging them with fluorescent labels, Wang says. The system can easily detect magnetic signals in blood serum samples because magnetism is rare in biological systems. And because the device is based on a physical phenomenon that is already the basis for consumer electronics, there is no need to prove its manufacturability. “The challenge is to combine it with biochemistry,” he adds.
A startup known as MagArray will commercialize the technology.Brian Buntz