In 1938, it was discovered that the urine of a woman could be injected into frogs as a way to test for pregnancy (1). If the frogs laid eggs after the injection, then the woman was pregnant. The assay had a relatively quick turn-around time, was simple, and generally accurate…the principle being that the hCG hormone excreted in urine of pregnant women caused the frogs to lay eggs. However, as always, there was a better way.
Enter the home pregnancy test. Biomarkers like hCG have been used for decades to determine biologically relevant states of individuals. However, the home pregnancy test uses lateral flow technology that provides fast, accurate, and convenient early detection. While the home pregnancy test is perhaps the most famous example of a urine-based biomarker assay, non-invasive early detection assays for a variety of diagnoses are in development, including cancer, gluten detection (5), Lyme disease (6), and Parkinson’s disease (4).
Scientists at MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, developed a nanoparticle solution that upon injection into a mouse, resulted in the release of relevant biomarkers excreted in the mouse’s urine (2). These lateral flow assays were specifically developed to detect colorectal cancer and thrombosis, allowing for an inexpensive detection method that could be used in remote areas and/or lower socioeconomic settings.
Another team led by Yasui and others in Japan has developed a nanowire-based method for isolation of extracellular vesicles containing oncology-related miRNA biomarkers. The increased capture of miRNA allows for a wider number of malignancies to be detected, including bladder, prostate, lung, pancreas, and liver cancers (3). The team utilized disease-specific differences in miRNA expression to diagnose cancers from different origins.
As technology such as these advances, scientists will expand their ability to analyze vast amounts of data as well as detect minute amounts of biomarkers. Understanding how miRNAs, metabolomics, and driver mutations can be used for early detection of malignancies, as well as other diseases, will go a long way in early detection that is also less invasive, resulting in faster and better treatment options. Technology can move away from using a frog for pregnancy testing to being able to pee on a stick in the privacy of one’s own home, for a fast, reliable, and inexpensive early detection method.
One of the most important factors in being able to design an assay is having enough of the right samples. BioIVT, with its extensive network of over 200 IRB approved collection centers, is able to partner with you to obtain the samples required for assay development. In addition, we can provide those samples with the associated clinical data necessary to move your research forward.