Researchers from the chemistry department at Imperial College London in the UK have developed a new system for the detection of rare molecules that are associated with early disease.
The research team attached specialised molecules to the backbone of DNA to directly identify single protein biomarkers in human serum.
Detection of biomarkers in lower concentrations is believed to enable early treatment and increase the chance of survival for diseases such as certain cancers and neurological disorders.
The new system is said to be more sensitive to specific biomarkers and does not need preparation of the clinical sample, compared to existing techniques that are considered expensive and time-consuming.
Imperial College London study co-leader from chemistry department Dr Alex Ivanov said: “The detection of single molecules of biomarkers represents the ultimate in sensitivity for early diagnosis.
“We have now shown that this is possible to perform such measurements in real human samples, opening up the potential for meaningful early diagnosis.”
The researchers grafted synthetic DNA molecules called aptamers that are designed to bind to the DNA backbones of specific target biomarkers, which are then analysed using a nanopore detector.
They tested the system with three aptamers on one DNA backbone and found that nanopores could identify the particular biomarkers that the aptamers were designed to pick up.
According to the team, the system can be made using more than five different aptamers, facilitating the detection of several biomarkers at a time.
The researchers are currently working on detection of cancer and neurological disorders, and have filed a patent for the technology, with plans for commercialisation in the future.