Make an early diagnosis of tumors. And determine whether or not you are a victim of brain trauma with a simple blood sample. It seems like a dream, but it is a reality much closer than it appears.
It is the new frontier of medical diagnostics opened by two patents registered by the Normale di Pisa. Thanks to research by the Pisa High School it will be possible to carry out rapid, non-invasive and low-cost analyzes. A turning point in prevention that can be reached thanks to two electronic instruments: a biosensor that can be used for tumor diagnosis and an electric micro-chip to detect brain trauma. Two technologies developed by researchers at Nest (the nanotenology laboratory of the institute of excellence) that could make their debut in hospitals within three years.
Brain trauma. Both have already been patented, but hours of study and research are still needed for practical application. The closest to crossing the finish line is the Braiker, a biosensor able to detect the presence of traumatic brain injury by analyzing the blood. Within one, maximum two years, it could complete development tests and be offered to investors interested in production and marketing. The instrument is based on “nano acoustic” technology. The other Braiker exploits acoustic waves, comparable to those created by micro-earthquakes, which make it possible to detect a particular molecule, the fibrillar acidic protein of the glia, whose abnormal presence characterizes the circulating blood in subjects afflicted with traumatic brain injury. The micro-chip identifies severe and mild pathologies.
Goodbye Tac. Above all – explains Matteo Agostini, research fellow of the Normal who developed the biosensor with Marco Cecchini (researcher of the Nano Institute of Cnr) – it allows to prevent people without traumas or minimal injuries being subjected to a CT scan ». With a double advantage for the patient – continues Agostini -: he should not «undergo an invasive examination and wait a few minutes for a first diagnosis. At the moment, it takes between 30 and 60 minutes to complete the analysis, but we are sure to further lower this timing a lot “.
Early diagnosis of tumors. A reduction in diagnosis time that could be decisive for saving so many lives of cancer patients. This is what the other patent of the Nest laboratory of Normale promises to do. That is to say a biomedical technology which, always with a blood sample, allows an early diagnosis of tumors. Also in this case the tool used by the researchers is a biosensor. The chip identifies the “vesicles”, organisms that are expelled from the cells and accumulate in the blood. The number of these “wastes” indicates whether or not a pathology is present. “In a sick person there are many, but the vesicles also tell us other things – explains Stefano Luin, researcher of Physics of the subject and referent of the project -: they bring with them information on the cells from which they come and our biosensor allows us to know in advance if they are due or not to the presence of a tumor and where it is developing ».
Funds are missing. At the moment the first tests have been carried out for prostate cancer, but for the “cancer detector” to be used in diagnostics it will take at least another three years of work and study. The patent was filed as early as 2014, but this tool capable of changing the perspective of prevention risks not moving forward due to the lack of funds for research in Italy. A destiny that could also involve the Braiker despite the fact that both do not require millionaires investments: to complete the two studies of the Normale it takes slightly less than 400 thousand euros.
However, researchers at the Nest della Normale go ahead. And their projects are among the protagonists of InnovAgorà, the first Italian innovation fair promoted by the Ministry of Education, University and Research which thus showcases the most promising technologies produced by Italian universities and research institutes. The event is ongoing until tomorrow in Milan and is hosted in the “Leonardo da Vinci” National Museum of Science and Technology. And a place named after the Genius could only be the protagonist of a Tuscan institute.