A new technology developed at MIT could simplify the process of diagnosing lung cancer. Nanoparticle sensors could be inhaled and then detected in urine to reveal the presence of a tumor. The sensors can be delivered by an inhaler or nebulizer and produce a signal in the urine if cancer-linked proteins are found in the lungs. This method could potentially replace or supplement the current standard for diagnosing lung cancer, low-dose CT scans.

The lead authors of the study, Qian Zhong and Edward Tan, and senior author, Sangeeta Bhatia, explored the idea to make the technology more accessible. The researchers found a way to detect DNA barcodes in urine using a simple paper test strip. The technology is designed to be point-of-care available in low-resource settings. The researchers tested their diagnostic system in mice who developed lung cancer around the same time as humans. They are planning to analyze human biopsy samples and perform clinical trials in humans.

The research was funded by the Johnson & Johnson Lung Cancer Initiative, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Koch Institute Support (core) Grant from the National Cancer Institute, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. This technology could dramatically improve lung cancer screening, especially in areas with limited access to CT scanning.

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