There is an urgent need to develop a simple to operate biosensing system for cancer monitoring from the comfort of the patient’s home. An advanced system, based on biomarkers, which can be used by the patients themselves for early disease screening, diagnosis and health monitoring can give patients, especially cancer patients, access to better diagnostic tools. Researchers from McMaster and Brock universities have come up with a prototype of a handheld device which can be used for biomarker screening and analysis by the patients themselves. Biomarkers are biomolecules which act like an indicator of an underlying condition or disease. Biomolecules like DNA, proteins or hormones can function as biomarkers. They are capable of indicating abnormal or normal bodily processes thereby the health status of the individual. These can serve as indicators for cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and various other diseases.

Cancer biomarkers (CB) are biomolecules produced either by the cancer tissue itself or other cells of the body may produce them in response to the tumor. CB can be found in blood, stool, urine, other body fluids, tumor tissue or other tissues. Cancer biomarkers play an important role in screening or early detection of cancer. They are used for diagnosis, prognosis and as an overall indicator of the health status of the patient.

A sample of tumor tissue or bodily fluid has to be sent to the laboratory for biomarker detection. A series of advanced pathology and molecular profiling tests have to be conducted to detect and measure at what levels the specific biomarkers are present. Early detection of cancer is necessary for better treatment and increased chance of survival. Cancer patients presently have to depend on laboratories with advanced pathology testing system for screening/detection and monitoring of cancer which in turn delays detection and diagnosis of the disease. Advanced testing methods, which can only be performed in the lab, for detection of biomarkers in order to diagnose diseases like cancer are enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), immunofluorescence, western blotting, immunodiffusion, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), flow cytometry etc.

Researchers from McMaster and Brock universities have developed the prototype for an ingenious, easy to use, hand-held device to measure a biomarker for cancer which would enable patients to monitor cancer from the comfort of their home. They have developed an electrochemical bio-barcode assay (e-biobarcode assay). The e-biobarcode assay is based on a single step sample analysis which bypasses the multistep processing. Nanostructure electrodes have been used in this device. E-biobarcode assay combines biorecognition with signal transduction using molecular (DNA/protein) machines and signal readout. The e-biobarcode assay can be used in a clinic or the patient’s home. A huge advantage of this device is that undiluted and unprocessed human plasma serum samples can be directly used to analyze the biomarkers. Thus patients using this device will not be dependent on labs for testing their blood for cancer biomarkers. The device can be used just like the blood glucose monitors ,used by diabetics to check their blood glucose level, to check for the presence or level of biomarker present in the blood.

The e-biobarcode assay has simplified the process of testing the blood for cancer biomarkers. The steps for testing using the device are as follows:

  • A droplet of blood has to be mixed in a vial containing a reactive liquid.
  • The mixture has to be placed onto a strip which has to be then inserted into a reader.
  • Within minutes the device would measure an antigen (a biomarker) which would indicate the degree to which the specific cancer is present in the patient.

Thus the prototype will enable patients to themselves determine the degree to which the cancer is present within minutes. Not only will be the patient be able to determine whether they are suffering from cancer but also monitor their health after treatment all from the comfort of their home.

The prototype developed by McMaster and Brock research team was designed to monitor prostate specific antigen (PSA) of the patient. Prostate specific antigen (PSA) is produced by both cancerous and noncancerous tissue in the prostate gland (a small gland located below the bladder in men). The PSA test is done to measure prostate specific antigen level in the blood. The test is performed to primarily screen for prostate cancer. The prototype developed by the team can be used to monitor prostate cancer. According to the team the device can be modified to measure other biomarkers specific for other forms of cancer or other chronic diseases.

A research collaboration spearheaded by McMaster’s Leyla Soleymani, a biomedical engineer and Canada Research Chair in Miniaturized Biomedical Devices, and Brock’s Feng Li, an associate professor of chemistry who leads a bioanalytical chemistry lab which constitute the McMaster and Brock team has developed this ingenious prototype which would make the daily lives of patients easier. Soleymani’s team developed the hardware which also includes the chip that reads the sample. On the other hand the led by Li developed the technology that would be used to analyze the sample. The McMaster and Brock team’s work has been published in the journal Angewandte Chemie. As claimed by the team this device would help generate within minutes accurate, shareable and up to date results which would also help doctors in deciding the treatment required by the patient. Not only will this home based device improve the quality of life of the patients but also lower the cost to the healthcare system.

The researchers are optimistic that once device gets commercialized it will revolutionize diagnosis and prognosis of cancer. The device will help shift from lab based equipments and testing to a more accessible, convenient, user-friendly device. This would enable patients to do away with the need to make trips to hospitals to provide blood samples for monitoring of diseases. This easy to operate biosensing system, having analytical sensitivity and specificity in clinical samples, will help to take a step closer to the goal of sample-in-answer-out –approach. By making cancer monitoring easy available it would ensure early screening and diagnosis of cancer which would help save more lives. E-biobarcode assay if implemented properly would pave way for personalized medicines.


Sarah M. Traynor, Guan A. Wang, Richa Pandey, Feng Li, Leyla Soleymani. Dynamic Bio‐Barcode Assay Enables Electrochemical Detection of a Cancer Biomarker in Undiluted Human Plasma: A Sample‐In‐Answer‐Out Approach. Angewandte Chemie, 2020; DOI: 10.1002/ange.202009664

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After having completed her postgraduation in Biotechnology from St. Xavier's College, Kolkata Sudhriti is currently a blogger. She writes articles, especially in the field of biotechnology, medical and wellness, in a clear and simple manner in order to connect with a wide spectrum of readers.


  • Sandeep Nagar, November 4, 2020 @ 1:14 pm Reply

    Wonderful piece of article. I wonder if similar type of device can be fabricated for Covid-19?

  • SN Banerjee, Chartered Engineer, F - 6032., November 4, 2020 @ 1:28 pm Reply

    Such devices will definitely help for early treatment. Congratulation for this fantastic information.

  • maimuk, November 7, 2020 @ 3:23 am Reply

    Thanks for highlighting this cutting edge Technology which brings Material Science ,Nano Technology, Electronics and Bio Chemistry in one great possibly Revolutionary Solution.
    A device that could revolutionize diagnosis and prognosis of cancer and from the comfort of your home.

    Looking into the Research on the Sensor mentioned in this article –
    The Nano Structured Electrode :-
    I found that these Nano Electrodes are now being used to sense Neural Activity too for some future Brain Computer Interface.The electrodes could find application in technologies for neurodegenerative diseases.

    These nanostructured electrodes with binder‐free designs are developed and have numerous advantages including large surface area, robust adhesion to substrates, high areal/specific capacity, fast electron/ion transfer, and free space for alleviating volume expansion, leading to superior battery performance too !!!
    Looking forward to more such Informative Articles that gives us a glimpse of the the Latest cutting edge Technology and have practical applications in our day to day lives.

  • D Dalal, November 8, 2020 @ 10:50 am Reply

    Very interesting and informative article


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