The Information Society Technologies says that scientists in Spain are developing a DNA chip, based on “micro- and nanotechnologies” that will be able to detect mutations of the BRCA1 gene, a culprit of up to 5 per cent of breast cancers:
The final device will be roughly the size of a human hand, allowing it to be used in doctors’ surgeries to determine the genetic predisposition of a patient to certain diseases in a matter of minutes. That compares to the hours or even days it can take to carry out the same analysis in a laboratory, which is generally only used to test high risk groups such as women with a family history of breast cancer.
To detect genetic mutations the OPTONANOGEN system uses an array of 20 microcantilevers coated in nucleic acid that react when they come into contact with a DNA sample displaying the genetic anomaly. The sample is injected into the device via a microfluidic header and the deflection of the cantilevers – by as little as 0.1 to 0.5 nanometres – is picked up by a photodetector array based on the reflection of light off the cantilevers from Vertical Cavity Surface Emission Lasers (VCSELs).
“We’ve patented both the microcantilever set up and the optical detection system and we are due to take out a third patent on the microfluidic header, which is unique in that it uses individual inlet and outlet paths for each cantilever rather than one for the whole array, something that has never been achieved before,” Lechuga says.
The cantilever array and microfluidic header are due to be low-cost components that would be disposable if used for medical analysis but which could be cleansed and reused for other applications.