Expatriate travel insurance policies may soon allow for the use of ultra-sensitive biosensors that can detect illnesses in their earliest stages, following research published in the journal Nature Materials that has shown the efficacy of these devices.
Scientists at the University of Vigo and Imperial College London have developed an examination that can hunt for molecules that hint towards the presence of diseases, even when these substances are in particularly low concentrations.
Researchers revealed this biosensor test can find a marker called Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA).
According to the Prostate Cancer Charity, most men have PSA in their blood in small amounts.
An unusually high level of this substance indicates that there is something wrong with a person’s prostate, although this is not necessarily cancer.
The new diagnostic tool could locate PSA at its maximum performance of 0.000000000000000001 grams per millilitre, compared with the Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay test’s performance of detecting the substance at 0.000000001 grams per millilitre – a concentration difference of nine orders of magnitude.
The detection device can be simply recalibrated to help experts look for other viruses or ailments with related biomarkers, the development team argued.
In the future, scientists intend to check whether the sensor can locate markers associated with other infections such as HIV, while examining how they can commercialise their discovery.
Senior author of the study from Imperial College London’s Departments of Materials and Bioengineering Professor Molly Stephens said: “It is vital to detect diseases at an early stage if we want people to have the best possible outcomes – diseases are usually easier to treat at this stage and early diagnosis can give us the chance to halt a disease before symptoms worsen.”
However, she argued this can often be like looking for “the proverbial needle in a haystack”, with the current technological tools available for early diagnosis unable to identify these diseases.
“Our new test can actually find that needle,” professor Stevens added.