While a significant amount of research and funding has improved the diagnosis and treatment options for those with breast, lung, and colon cancer, its the fourth-deadliest type of cancer, pancreatic, that strikes the quickest with the highest mortality rate of 94% within 5 years.
Researchers including undergraduate student Chris Burfeind at the University of Washington have developed a low-cost and simple device designed to diagnose pancreatic cancer much more quickly than previously available tests. Utilizing properties of microfluidics, the credit card-sized device reduces diagnosis time by shortening the steps of the traditional biopsy process.
The way the device works is quite simple: tissue is inserted via needle into tubes where the tissue can be stained, washed and then transported out for analysis. Microfluidics allows for the precise control and movement of the tissue in the small, sub-millimeter tubes. Normally, the biopsy is taken and then transported to a lab where it will be sliced, stained, put on plates and analyzed visually for any abnormalities; a time consuming process for a patient waiting on a diagnosis.
Apart from the time, the device is also more efficient than the traditional method. According to UW postdoctoral researcher Ronnie Das,
As soon as you cut a piece of tissue, you lose information about it. If you can keep the original tissue biopsy intact, you can see the whole story of abnormal cell growth.
The researchers developed the device as a prototype to complete a biopsy one step at a time, but in the future they plan to combine all the steps (plus 3D imaging) into one machine which will be used in labs.