Biosensors Provide The Key To Non-Invasive Cancer Tests

Sensors Insights by Caleb Radford

Diagnostic tests for bladder cancer are traditionally invasive and confronting procedures. However, sensor technology from South Australia is leading to the development of an advanced testing device that is non-invasive and can be carried out in the home.

The advance is a result of collaboration between advanced manufacturing company SMR Technologies and the University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute in the state’s capital Adelaide. The sensors are set to simplify testing for bladder cancer recurrence, replacing the need to run tubes through the urethra to the bladder with a urine test.

The non-invasive devices incorporate point-of-care biosensors with nano-structured coatings to identify traces of cancer cells in patient urine. It is based on university research by the University of South Australia, which discovered a polymeric compound. This compound can be turned into a coating that binds to cancer specific antibodies.

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Preliminary results suggested it was a superior method to common cancer detections methods such as cytology and endoscopy. The joint venture is now being scaled up in a AU$9.2m project where the take-home devices are trialed on 1000 patients at Flinders Medical Centre to further test their commercial potential.

SMR Technologies is one of the largest manufacturers of passenger car rearview mirrors in the world with 24 per cent of the global market share in production of exterior mirrors for light vehicles. It is also one of the leading experts for camera-based sensing systems. However, the decline of the car manufacturing industry in South Australia in recent years has caused the company to seek opportunities in the medical device industry.

An SMR Technologies spokesman said the company was very interested in exploring opportunities in the area of cancer research. “Cancer is a global issue and we hope that these sensors will play a key role in the fight against the deadly disease,” he said. “The funding is focused on a revolutionary diagnostic device for non-invasive early detection of urothelial cancers. These cancers have very high recurrence rates and ongoing patient monitoring currently requires highly invasive techniques.”



The initial diagnosis of bladder cancer usually follows certain symptoms such as bloody urine or frequent urination. Patients are then required to undergo flexible cystoscopy, where a thin tube with a camera and light on the end is inserted through the urethra to the bladder.

Bladder cancer survivors are subject to regular endoscopies because of the high probability of recurrence. The new detection device uses the polymer coating technology to bind to the cancer cells in urine samples. It then uses unique biosensors and micro-optics to identify the presence of those cells. The simplicity of the process enables patients to test for cancer recurrence in the privacy of their own home without the need to undergo additional cystoscopies, which can also be quite expensive.

Bladder cancer diagnosis flow.
Bladder cancer diagnosis flow.

The SMR Technologies spokesman said the point-of-care biosensors were the key element to completing the cancer detection process, making it simple and reliable enough for patients to perform the test at home.  “Over the course of the project, platform design and manufacturing capability will be established in the areas of optical molding, plasma polymerization, biological surface functionalization and optofluidics, which will enable the creation and validation of a production process for the device, providing large numbers of sensors for clinical trial,” he said.

The project is being led by University of South Australia surface and material engineers Professor Krasimir Vasilev and Dr. Melanie Macgregor-Ramiasa, who discovered the plasma polymer coatings and theorized the process. Prof Vasilev, from the University’s Future Industries Institute, said current urinary diagnostic tests for urothelial cancers were expensive, with limited sensitivity and specificity. “The thing with bladder cancer is the high probability of recurrence – about 75 per cent within five years – which is why they need constant surveillance. Cystoscopy is an invasive procedure where you are at risk for a number of complications such as infections and with about 90 per cent of endoscopies being negative, patients can go away after having invasive procedures that cost a lot of money and are then told they are fine. This process will revolutionize how bladder cancer is tested and in the small tests we have done, it is better than other non-invasive techniques like urine cytology,” he said.

The team at Flinders Medical Centre is currently recruiting patients for the large-scale study, which is set to begin in the coming months before the device is prepared for market.


About the Author

Caleb Radford is a journalist and freelance writer from Australia. He has been published by numerous publications including, Medical News Today, Renewable Energy World, Australian Defence Magazine and Manufacturers Monthly.

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