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Logo UHasselt Universiteit Hasselt - Knowledge in action


"A novel concept for the specific detection of circulating cells based on heat flow through surface-imprinted polymer layers."

The results of the latest PhD dissertation at the Institute for Materials Research of Hasselt University show that it is possible to detect cancer cells in a specific manner using a novel detection method based on two thermometers.

Although the biosensor that was developed during this PhD project is only a prototype for potential commercial applications in the future, the results of the research are very promising. Sensor applications that are able to detect cancer- or other disease-related cells in blood are potentially very interesting for the medical community. They might be used for diagnostic purposes, leading to a faster detection of the disease, leading in turn to an improved prognosis for the patient.

The detection method is relatively simple: the temperature difference between a copper block and a liquid compartment is monitored in time by means of two thermometers. A synthetic receptor, consisting of a plastic layer that is able to bind cancer cells in a specific manner is placed at the interface between two compartments. Cancer cells, present in a sample loaded into the liquid compartment, will bind to the plastic layer, leading to an increase in the monitored temperature difference. In this way, the platform was able to discriminate between different types of cancer cells and, more importantly, between cancer cells and healthy cells.

Up until now, the sensor platform has only been tested in buffer solution. In order to be able to detect cells in more complex patient samples (for example blood), the sensitivity of the device needs to be improved. Nevertheless, the results obtained during the PhD project are very promising and open the door for future research projects.