Implement light sources, detectors and sensing elements with a single optical chip for better results in routine cancer diagnosis and screening. Imran Avci of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam has received a grant from the Open Technology Program AES (NWO) to develop this optical chip, the COMB-O. With this approach, Avci and her team hopes that the COMB-O will be the first ultra-sensitive, low-cost and easy-to-use PoC (point-of-care) optical biomarker detection platform that can be developed as a disposable screening or diagnostic test.
Every sixth death in the world is due to cancer and its incidence rate is rapidly growing. Early-stage cancer detection is critical for an optimal clinical outcome of many rapidly progressing malignant cancers, such as lung cancer, which is the primary cause of cancer related deaths, worldwide. Screening for these cancers in high-risk individuals can save lives; however, existing methods have major limitations. For lung cancer, for example, the routinely used low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) is harmful, costly, time consuming, and can only be executed in specialized hospital settings.
Optical biosensors can detect clinically relevant biomarkers associated with certain types of cancers in bodily fluids such as blood and urine. However currently optical biosensors require careful alignment of light source and detection component within a sensing platform. This is why this kind of optical sensing cannot be used by practitioners in the field for cancer screening.
One single-optical chip: COMB-O
In this project, Avci will develop a groundbreaking monolithic integrated photonics technology, which enables the integration of light sources, detectors and sensing elements into one single-chip: COMB-O. By this full integration, alignment is no longer required, overcoming the main barrier of wide deployment of optical biosensors. Taking this approach, COMB-O will be the first ultra-sensitive, low-cost and easy-to-use PoC optical biomarker detection platform that can be developed as a disposable screening or diagnostic test. The sensing element that will be incorporated in COMB-O goes beyond the state of the art, avoiding thermal drifts, which is critical for PoC use. The development of these biosensors will provide a low-cost and minimally invasive tool with very high sensitivity and specificity, showing great potential for routine cancer diagnostics and screening. For lungcancer, the first target, this would be the first PoC detection method.
Open Technology Programme
The Open Technology Programme is open to excellent research aimed at the possible implementation of the results. The programme offers companies and other organisations an easily accessible way of becoming involved in scientific research that leads to usable knowledge. In June, the board of NWO Domain AES granted 6 research projects within the Open Technology Programme (OTP). The projects range from a quieter MRI scanner and solutions for traffic jams to smarter hearing aids. Early-stage Cancer Screening Using Single-chip Optical Frequency Comb Sensors (COMB-O) of dr. B.I. Avci, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is one of the six projects.
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