BReast CAncer gene one (BRCA1) is one of the best-known genes linked to breast cancer risk. Unfortunately, the technology to spot the gene requires a lab and expertise at interpretation. Researchers at Louisiana State University have now developed a smartphone-based system called FLuoroZen that can test for the cancer-related BRCA1 mutation at the point-of-care within twenty minutes.
The FLuoroZen analyzes DNA within saliva or blood when the sample is placed on nitrocellulose paper, itself placed on a glass slide. The device then detects the fluorescent oligonucleotide spots on the nitrocellulose paper thanks to two filters that screen out all except for two different frequencies of light. One of the light frequencies excites the fluorescent dye and the second is used to help measure the light spectrum that is emitted.
Spots that are brighter indicate the presence of the mutated version of the BRCA1 gene. The difference in the light intensity between positive and negative spots is not very strong, but a smartphone with a special app can tell the difference and produce final results.
The technology can not only work for detecting BRCA1 mutations. “Utilizing paper microfluidics for biological assays, along with the smartphone readout setup opens up the possibility of transferring various clinical, as well as environmental, tests to POCT,” said Manas Gartia, assistant professor at Louisiana State. “Dr. Melvin [LSU Chemical Engineering Professor Adam Melvin] is interested in finding neurotoxins and hepatotoxins, such as microcystin and cyanopeptolin, due to harmful golden algal blooms found in Lake Pontchartrain. If we can attach that toxin to a fluorescent dye, then we can detect whether that particular toxin is in your water sample.”