(Inside Science TV) – Early detection of cancer is crucial for a better chance at recovery. But in some areas of the U.S., imaging equipment used for disease screening – such as machines used to perform mammograms – can be costly and hard to come by. This means many people in these areas, often rural ones, are left without ready access to preventive screening.
Now, scientists in Minnesota are changing that.
"What we've done is developed a test that's going to allow more people to get diagnosed earlier for cancer," said David Wood, a biomedical engineer at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
The device uses paper strips similar to the ones used in a home pregnancy test. The strips look for specific markers that indicate cancer in a urine sample.
Here is how it works: A patient is injected with molecules that interact with the extra proteins produced by cancer tumor cells. The test can detect these proteins from a patient's urine. The molecules used in the test can be made from U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved components, and are safe in the body.
"You can take the paper test with you into the field, administer the entire test within the course of a half an hour and know the answer immediately," explained Wood. "The idea with this test is it's something that can be administered locally and remotely."
Researchers say the test could be used to detect multiple diseases and different types of cancers. The first trials to test the device used human colon cancer tumor cells implanted into mice.
"We have the potential to actually diagnose cancer much earlier, which means that we can start treating much earlier," said Wood.
Scientists hope to test the system with human patients within a year.