Diagnostic tool to determine down to 20 nm of individual particles in blood sample at an early stage

Researchers from Norway have developed the sensor that is capable of determining the individual particles in the blood sample and can help to detect cancer such as prostate and ovarian cancer in very early stages.

It is the world’s first sensor with such capability of determination developed by researchers from SINTEF, the largest independent research organization in Scandinavia, in collaboration with the researchers from Stanford University in the USA and the University of Oslo (UiO). This nano-particle sensor has been developed in MiNaLab in Oslo.

The MiNaLab nanotechnology laboratory in Oslo (Credit: SINTEF ICT)

This sensor has a thin silicon membrane that is about 300 times thinner than a single hair and it has hundreds of small holes in a regular pattern.

‘We call these structures photonic crystals. The same structures occur naturally in the wings of some butterflies,’ Ib-Rune Johansen at SINTEF ICT said in a statement. Like his collaborators Jon Olav Grepstad and Michal Mielnik, he believes that they are true to their claim that this is “the ultimate bio-sensor – at the cutting edge of nanotechnology”.

This sensor has the ability to amplify parts of the spectrum of light.

‘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,’ Johansen said.

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

This sensor has the ability to sense the particles down to 20 nanometers in size resulting in its increased sensitivity i.e. about million times that of ordinary sensors.

Illustration of the movement of blood through the perforations (Credit SINTEF ICT)‘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,’ Michal Mielnik said.

It is not only sensitive but is also highly specific and that is why it can help in the detection of cancer and other infections by capturing specific proteins and molecules with the help of receptors in the holes or perforations.

Interestingly, this sensor is not much costly as it would be available in few thousand kroner that could be less than one thousand dollars to the organizations.