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MU researcher develops cancer-detecting sensor

The sensor could potentially be developed as a home testing kit.

Spencer Pearson/Graphic Designer

Feb. 19, 2010

A non-invasive approach to detecting cancer is under development by MU researcher Jae Kwon.

It takes the form of an "acoustic resonant sensor" that looks at biomarkers in bodily fluids, such as blood or urine.

"Research has found that there are biomarkers that indicate when cancer is present," MU News Bureau spokeswoman Kelsey Jackson said. "So the sensor is detecting those biomarkers in the blood or urine."

Before Kwon, looking at fluids to find disease was more of a challenge, Jackson said. Like cell phones, most sensors lose signal quality when they are in averse environments, or in this case, liquid environments. Kwon's detector improves on previous sensors because of its low signal loss and high sensitivity, which enables the sensor to get a good reading of the biomarkers.

He said because of that, disease-related substances can be "effectively and quickly detected."

By "quickly," Kwon means in real-time. As complicated as it is, the detector is smaller than a human hair. Its small size and high sensitivity allows patients to get results almost immediately, instead of waiting days or weeks for biopsy or test results.

"Our ultimate goal is to produce a device that will simply and quickly diagnose multiple specific diseases, and eventually be used to create 'point of care' systems, which are services provided to patients at their bedsides," Kwon said.

The size of the sensor again plays a key role in this because it allows typically bulky accompanying machinery, such as data readers and scanning equipment, to be smaller too.

Much like home drug tests or pregnancy kits, Kwon hopes the sensor might be available commercially one day. People can then be diagnosed at home instead of going to the hospital for a potentially costly barrage of tests.

"The sensor has strong commercial potential to be manifested as simple home kits for easy, rapid and accurate diagnosis," Kwon said.

Kwon received a five-year, $400,000 National Science Foundation CAREER award to continue his work. The award, meant to support junior teacher-scholars, is one of the foundation's most prestigious. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has also published his sensor research at two conferences.

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Article comments

Feb. 22, 2010 at 9:02 p.m.

alamo36: Concentrated brain power solves problems. As Descartes correctly wrote, "I think therefore I am". Jae Kwon is an exemplary individual and looks like someone whose achievement can make a significant reduction in medical diagnostics. I wish him Godspeed.

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