Scientists developing device to detect if cancer treatment is working

UK researchers aim to standardise the extraction of tumour DNA from blood samples

A credit card-sized device is being developed to help detect whether cancer treatment is working.

The cartridge would quickly extract small fractions of circulating tumour DNA in the blood, a situation found in most forms of the disease, to monitor how effective therapy has been.

Scientists from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have been awarded €1 million to pursue the technology.

“At the moment, blood is extracted in a tube, then it is transported to a lab, and then it goes through a series of pre-analytical steps before being analysed with molecular techniques,” said Dr Maiwenn Kersaudy-Kerhoas.


“None of this is standardised: different labs used different tubes, different technicians have different techniques and there’s the possibility for environmental damage and human error to affect the samples.

“We want to standardise the extraction of tumour DNA from blood samples, with an enclosed system that is very safe, easy to use and does not involve human handling of the samples.”

Highly complex

In most cancers, dying tumour cells release circulating DNA which can be used to detect and monitor cancers. Sensitive testing and highly complex workflows are needed to precisely pick these up.

Dr Kersaudy-Kerhoas and her team will spend the next four years designing, testing and deploying in pilot studies a credit card-sized cartridge device to increase the robustness and reliability of biomarkers.

The team believes this will make instantaneous testing a sustainable and cost-effective procedure for England’s National Health Service.

"Early detection and intervention are the most effective means for reducing morbidity and mortality of cancer," said Dr Olga Oikonomidou, a breast cancer specialist. "The Heriot-Watt device, once it is on the market, will take us another step closer to personalised medicine for patients."