Chip can diagnose cancer in 15 minutes

Summary

Leuven tech centre imec has made a remarkable breakthrough in the diagnosis of cancer by developing a chip that analyses a blood sample in record time

Multiple kinds of cancers detected

In what is being hailed as a pioneering breakthrough, scientists at Leuven nanotech research centre imec have developed a chip that can determine if someone has cancer with one blood test. Researcher Liesbet Lagae and her team have been working on the chip for four years.

The chip is placed in a test tube with the blood sample, where it acts as a tiny digital camera, creating images of every cell – millions of them – in a matter of a few minutes. It sends the images to a computer, where an analytical algorithm can determine if any of the cells are cancerous.

The entire process takes about 15 minutes. It is not only much faster than traditional blood tests but much more accurate. “The earlier you can diagnose cancer, the better the outcome,” said Lagae (pictured).

Blood tests are currently sometimes ordered to help doctors diagnose cancer, but different tests are required depending on the type of cancer suspected. And they are not definitive; they are more like one step in the diagnostic process.

An MRI scan is the most-often used technique to definitively determine cancer, but it tends to miss small tumours, only working to confirm a diagnosis when it is often too late to start treatment. Approximately 90% of cancer deaths involve a diagnosis that came too late.

Lagae’s chip, therefore, is a groundbreaking development, capable of saving countless lives. The team has already carried out a study on a small group of patients and found that the chip works extremely well.

“We are now working to raise the needed funds to develop a marketable prototype and to conduct a clinical study on a large number of patients,” said Lagae. They hope to have the product market-ready in three to five years.

Photo courtesy imec

Imec

Leuven-based imec is a world-leading nanotechnology and nanoelectronics research centre. Its main research areas are ICT, health care and energy.
Origins - Imec was established as an independent but Flemish government-backed research centre for microelectronics in 1984.
International - While its headquarters are in Leuven, imec has offices in the US, the Netherlands, Taiwan, China, India and Japan.
Clean room - Imec boasts two cleanrooms – dust-free labs to develop computer chips – and is developing a third.
36

spin-off companies

48

million euros in annual subsidy from the government of Flanders

2 000

staff members