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Flexible film could enable phone-sized cancer detector

"This film is light, flexible and easy to manufacture," said lead researcher Nicholas Kotov.
By Brooks Hays   |   Jan. 14, 2016 at 6:11 PM

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Jan. 14 (UPI) -- A newly developed film may pave the way for better, cheaper cancer detection technologies. Eventually, scientists hope the film can be used to build cancer detection devices the size of a phone -- something a patient could potentially use at home.

The film is able to produce circularly polarized light, coiling it into a 3-D helix shape. The ability is vital to certain cancer detection processes that trace cancer biomarkers in the blood.

Currently, big, expensive machines do the processing. But that could change thanks to the ongoing research into polarizing film at the University of Michigan.

The detection process works by spotting certain types of protein or bits of DNA in the blood that signal the early presence cancer in the body. Scientists begin by designing synthetic biological particles that attract these biomarkers. These particles are then coated in a substance that reflects circularly polarized light.

When added to a patient's blood sample and examined under circularly polarized light -- created using the film -- a detection device can determine whether the particles have bound with the biomarkers or not.

"This film is light, flexible and easy to manufacture," lead researcher Nicholas Kotov said in a press release. "It creates many new possible applications for circularly polarized light, of which cancer detection is just one."

Scientists created the film by twisting and pressing flat a soft contact lens. The lens is then combined with alternating layers of reflective gold nanoparticles and clear polyurethane. The gold nanoparticles naturally organize into S-shaped chains which help produce the circularly polarized light.

Kotov hopes the technology can soon be put in the hands of doctors. He says it could eventually even be used by patients in their own home. The novel film was described in a new paper published in the journal Nature Materials.

"More frequent monitoring could enable doctors to catch cancer recurrence earlier, to more effectively monitor the effectiveness of medications and to give patients better peace of mind," Kotov said. "This new film may help make that happen."

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