Researchers Develop Device That Can Detect Breast Cancer Through Saliva

The five-year survival rate for breast cancer in high-income countries is over 90%, but that’s not the case in low- and middle-income countries. This is partly attributable to later diagnosis and limited diagnostic facilities. Health care providers trying to tackle these barriers may have a new option: a handheld device that detects breast cancer through saliva samples.

A team from the University of Florida and Taiwan’s National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University recently tested the effectiveness of a device that detects the breast cancer biomarkers HER2 and CA15-3 through as little as three microliters of saliva. Their findings, published in the Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology B, showed the biomarkers could be detected when their levels were as low as one femtogram per milliliter. The researchers say this suggests that making this device commercially available could help with earlier breast cancer diagnosis.

Hand holds saliva test

Hsiao-Hsuan Wan, first author from the University of Florida’s Department of Chemical Engineering, says, “In many places, especially in developing countries, advanced technologies like MRI for breast cancer testing may not be readily available. Our technology is more cost-effective, with the test strip costing just a few cents and the reusable circuit board priced at $5. We are excited about the potential to make a significant impact in areas where people might not have had the resources for breast cancer screening tests before.”

The device works by using disposable strips like those used for glucose detection. The strips are treated with antibodies that interact with the biomarkers. To analyze the strips with the handheld device, electric pulses are sent to contact points that cause the biomarkers to bind to the antibodies. Ultimately, a change in the output signal communicates digitally how much biomarker is present.

With the findings showing that the biomarkers could be detected at levels of one femtogram per milliliter, which is roughly one quadrillionth of a gram, the researchers are hopeful that its ease of use and quick results could be convenient for health care providers whose patients have limited access to the more expensive and involved mammograms, ultrasounds, and MRIs.

Woman gets saliva swabbed for a test

Hsiao-Hsuan Wan says, “Imagine medical staff conducting breast cancer screening in communities or hospitals. Our device is an excellent choice because it is portable — about the size of your hand — and reusable. The testing time is under five seconds per sample, which makes it highly efficient.”

If you’d like to read more about this testing method, click here.

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