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Thursday, 17 June 2021

SHINE: a paper-based electroanalytical platform for breast cancer diagnosis

The results of the recently concluded EU funded SHINE project are highlighted on the CORDIS website of the European Community. It was coordinated by ICN2 group leader Prof. Arben Merkoçi.

The SHINE project, dedicated to the development of a portable and cheap platform for breast cancer diagnostics, has come to an end earlier this year and its results have been recently highlighted in the "Results in Brief" section of the website of the EU Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS). Funded by the European Commission through its Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Programme, SHINE was coordinated by ICREA Prof. Arben Merkoçi, leader of the ICN2 Nanobioelectronics and Biosensors group, while the primary investigator was Prof. Stefano Cinti, from the University of Naples “Federico II” (Italy), who in 2019 was hosted at the ICN2 as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow.

The project provided a proof of concept for a handheld electrochemical microfluidic paper-based device able to detect mutated DNA molecules in a drop of blood. The analysis of DNA and RNA in bodily fluids to identify infections or diseases at an early stage is a trending topic in research and it could be particularly useful in the case of cancer. This so-called liquid biopsy, indeed, improves early diagnosis of cancer and therapy monitoring, with relevant impact on the survival rates of patients. The most common and reliable approaches currently used, though, rely on sophisticated equipment or complex procedures. On the contrary, a portable, low-cost and easy-to-use device would allow a fast and simple screening and could also be used in situations in which medical infrastructures are lacking.

Within the framework of the SHINE projects, the researchers fabricated a prototype of a paper-based device using screen-printing and wax-printing technologies. Specific probes were used, which are able to detect DNA mutated sequences in blood, even at low concentration. The platform was tested using samples containing a single strand DNA with a mutation associated with breast cancer and two different detection approaches were used. Both of them proved effective, but one of the two was identified as the optimal compromise between cost and ease of use.

While the results are promising, this device is still not available for commercialization. In fact, the next step to bring this technology to patients is securing funding for clinical trials.