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Scientists create smart contact lenses that diagnose cancer

The device could open the door to an inexpensive 'one size fits all' screening program.

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The Smart contact lenses are being developed by a team at the Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation in California.
(Image via SWNS)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Smart contact lenses that diagnose cancer have been created by scientists.

They detect tumor-identifying chemicals found in tears - in the early stages of the disease.

The device could open the door to an inexpensive 'one size fits all' screening program.

It captures transporters called 'exosomes' - secret messengers within our bodies.

Found within cells, they are tiny bubble-like 'vesicles' secreted into blood, saliva, urine - and tears.

On the surface are a wealth of proteins - some fuelled by cancer, viral infections or injury.

They can also strongly influence tumor regulation, progression and spread - offering hope of better drugs.

Minimizing delays to treatment improves survival rates. Every month can raise risk of death by around ten percent.

Project leader Professor Ali Khademhosseini, of the Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation in California, said: "The lens can detect exosomes in various solutions from various cell lines - and human tears.

"It can differentiate expression of surface proteins as cancer biomarkers."

The eyeglass is fitted with microchambers bound to antibodies that the exosomes stick to.

In experiments, it was successfully tested on exosomes secreted into lab liquids from ten different tissue and cancer cell lines - and tears from ten human volunteers.

Khademhosseini said: "It can be stained with nanoparticle-tagged specific antibodies for selective visualization.

"This offers a potential platform for cancer pre-screening and a supportive diagnostic tool that is easy, rapid, sensitive, cost-effective and non-invasive."

Exosomes were once thought to be the dumping grounds for unwanted materials. It is now known they carry different biomolecules between cells.

Khademhosseini said: "They are a rich source of markers which can be targeted for several biomedical applications.

"The methodology our team has developed greatly facilitates our ability to tap into this source."

Previous attempts to harness their importance have been hampered by problems in isolating enough to provide sufficient information.

woman in her forties inserting contact lenses
(ESB Basic via Shutterstock)

Current methods involve tedious, complicated, time-consuming and costly equipment - taking at least ten hours to complete.

The US team's simple technique eliminates these issues. What is more tears are a better and cleaner source of exosomes than other bodily fluids.

Both the chambers and lens were built using direct laser cutting and engraving rather than conventional cast molding.

In addition, they chemically modified the surfaces to activate them for antibody binding.

Standard methods involve metallic or nano-carbon materials in expensive clean-room settings.

The exosomes are scanned using a pair of antibodies on gold nano-particles so potential signs of cancer can be visualized.

Both are specific for two different surface markers found on all exosomes, explained Khademhosseini.

Further analysis showed the lens identified exosomes in solutions from three cell lines with varying surface markers and using different combinations of antibodies.

Khademhosseini said: "The resultant patterns of detection and non-detection of exosomes from the three different cell lines were as expected.

"It validated its ability to accurately capture and detect exosomes with different surface markers."

He described the results in Advanced Functional Materials as "encouraging."

Khademhosseini added that the next generation smart contact lens is a promising "easy-to-use, rapid, noninvasive monitoring platform of cancer pre-screening and supportive diagnosis."

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