Researchers at the Korea Institute of Materials Science (KIMS) creaetd a Raman-spectroscopy-based urine test that can detect metabolic compounds that are produced by pancreatic and prostate cancers, potentially allowing for rapid and convenient cancer screening. The technology consists of a paper strip onto which a urine sample can be added. The paper contains ‘coral-shaped’ structures that assist in amplifying the optical signal of cancer metabolites in the urine when the paper strip is illuminated with light, letting the researchers acquire spectral signals for each sample. By analyzing urine samples from cancer patients and healthy volunteers, the researchers were able to use machine learning techniques to spot metabolic signatures for pancreatic and prostate cancer, paving the way for the technology to assist in diagnosing these cancers.
Many cancers are detected long after it is possible to effectively treat them. Some, such as pancreatic cancer, are very difficult to diagnose until they are quite advanced. Missing this window for early treatment often means that treatment options are very limited, and many such patients experience poor outcomes.
Routine cancer screening could help to catch cancers that are flying under the radar, but many traditional cancer diagnostic techniques, such as histological analysis or imaging, are not really suitable for large screening programs, and would be inconvenient and expensive to deploy in large groups of people.
A urine test for difficult-to-detect cancers, however, would be very convenient for cancer screens, and these Korean researchers have designed one. “In the case of cancers where the diagnosis method is not well known, such as pancreatic cancer, it is difficult to detect and the survival rate after initial diagnosis is low. It is known that 14 pancreatic cancer patients die every day in Korea, and the economic cost per person is about 63 million won per year,” said Ho Sang Jung, a researcher involved in the study. “Since early diagnosis is the most important for incurable diseases such as cancer, we expect this technology to provide a new diagnostic method.”
The inexpensive paper strip device is based on Raman spectroscopy, and requires just 10 microliters of urine per test. The porous paper sensor has been enhanced with a coral-shaped plasmonic nanomaterial to boost the optical signal of the cancer metabolites by over 1 billion-fold, allowing the signal to be detected. In tests so far, the researchers report that the technology could distinguish 99% of samples from patients with prostate or pancreatic cancers from healthy volunteer samples.
Study in journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics: 3D plasmonic coral nanoarchitecture paper for label-free human urine sensing and deep learning-assisted cancer screening