Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Tricorder is Coming

Remember the Tricorder in the original Star Trek? You know, the device McCoy would use to discern any disease or malady that has befallen an unfortunate whether it be man or alien. Well folks, said device is almost here.

University of Toronto researchers have used nanomaterials to develop a microchip sensitive enough to quickly determine the type and severity of a patient's cancer so that the disease can be detected earlier for more effective treatment.

Their groundbreaking work, reported Sept. 27 in Nature Nanotechnology heralds an era when sophisticated
molecular diagnostics will become commonplace.

"This remarkable innovation is an indication that the age of nanomedicine is dawning," says Professor David Naylor, president of the University of Toronto and a professor of medicine. "Thanks to the breadth of expertise here at U of T, cross-disciplinary collaborations of this nature make such landmark advances possible."

The researchers' new device can easily sense the signature biomarkers that indicate the presence of cancer at the cellular level, even though these biomolecules - genes that indicate aggressive or benign forms of the disease and differentiate subtypes of the cancer - are generally present only at low levels in biological samples. Analysis can be completed in 30 minutes, a vast improvement over the existing diagnostic procedures that generally take days.

"Today, it takes a room filled with computers to evaluate a clinically relevant sample of cancer biomarkers and the results aren't quickly available," says Shana Kelley, a professor in the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy and the Faculty of Medicine, who was a lead investigator on the project and a co-author on the publication.

"Our team was able to measure biomolecules on an electronic chip the size of your fingertip and analyse the sample within half an hour. The instrumentation required for this analysis can be contained within a unit the size of a BlackBerry."

Science Fiction yesterday, Science Fact today and so it goes.
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