Capturing picogram levels concentrations of biomarkers such as carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) and alpha feto-protein (AFP) plays a critical role in early detection and monitoring of recurrence of colorectal cancer (CRC) as well as liver cancer. While conventional enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) is the most commonly used test to monitor these biomarker levels, these tests do not have sufficient sensitivity for the detection of cancer at an early stage or the early detection of recurrence. In addition, the current testing methods are time-consuming and labor intensive, increasing the cost involved in monitoring and treatment. To satisfy these unmet needs, a low-cost, highly sensitive fluorescence based biosensor prototype was developed.
The biosensor is based on a microchip with high density nanoscale trench geometries, in which spherical nanoparticles (NP), coated with a specific antibody to capture a targeted antigen, are accommodated. Due to the large surface area of NPs on the localized regions of microchip (less than 0.05mm2), a stronger fluorescence signal is obtained from the same area when compared to standard 96-well plate ELISA, leading to a very low detection limit.
The biosensor also accommodates more than one type of antibody-coated NP arrays on the device surface, enabling simultaneous detection of multiple biomarkers. The use of high-volume semiconductor manufacturing techniques and 1% of the reagents and capture antibodies relative to the standard ELISA makes the biosensor cost-effective. In addition, the biosensor uses very low sample volume of whole blood (comparable to volume taken from finger prick) and has fast assay time (1/3 of competitors) making it attractive for potential lab-on-chip point of care applications.
The prototype has been tested in-vitro for CEA using 50% murine blood (1:1 dilution with phosphate buffered saline, pH 7.4) as well as in-vivo from tumor-bearing mice. Results demonstrated 15.6 pg/mL detection limit (more than two orders of magnitude lower than standard CEA ELISA) and showed great promise for the early detection of CRC recurrence.
Successful completion of this project will translate this prototype biosensor into a commercial product to be used for the detection and monitoring of CRC and AFP biomarkers in reference laboratories and hospitals.