Tools that detect cancer in its early stages can increase patient survival and quality of life. However, cancer screening approaches often call for expensive equipment and trips to the clinic, which may not be feasible in rural or developing areas with little medical infrastructure.
The emerging field of point-of-care diagnostics is therefore working on cheaper, faster, and easier-to-use tests. An international pair of engineering labs are championing this approach and have developed a tool that changes the colour of mouse urine when colon cancer, also known as bowel cancer, is present.
The findings are published in Nature Nanotechnology (“Renal clearable catalytic gold nanoclusters for in vivo disease monitoring”).
The early stage technology, developed by teams led by Imperial’s Professor Molly Stevens and MIT’s Professor Sangeeta Bhatia, works by injecting nanosensors into mice, which are cut up by enzymes released by tumours known as proteases.
When the nanosensors are broken up by proteases, they pass through the kidney, and can be seen with the naked eye after a urine test that produces a blue colour change.
The researchers applied this technology to mice with colon cancer, and found that urine from tumour-bearing mice becomes bright blue, relative to test samples taken from healthy mice.
Professor Stevens, of Imperial’s Departments of Materials and Bioengineering, said: “By taking advantage of this chemical reaction that produces a colour change, this test can be administered without the need for expensive and hard-to-use lab instruments.
“The simple readout could potentially be captured by a smartphone picture and transmitted to remote caregivers to connect patients to treatment.”

Image Credit:  Imperial College London


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