A sensor to detect cancer in an early stage

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I am a professor of nano electronics at the MESA + research institute and I am working on a NanoGap sensor. That is a tiny opening in an electrode, which sounds an alarm when DNA is damaged . That may indicate bladder or kidney cancer and possibly in women for cervical cancer. Many sorts of cancers violate these organic reaction.

The sensor is a mobile device with which bladder and kidney cancer can be discovered

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We call this idea the 'NanoGap sensor', a gap about 100 nanometres wide (a nanometre is a million times smaller than a millimetre) in an electrode (precious metal) with receptors that raise an alarm in the case of degraded DNA. He focuses specifically on DNA in urine, from which it is possible to 'read' whether there is any indication of early-stage bladder, kidney and, in women, cervical cancer.

In the current situation we only detect cancer at an advanced stage, when the patient already has symptoms, for example associated with a tumour. In this study we look for DNA where something has changed, i.e. DNA that is covered by the body with methyl groups. In many cancers excessive methylation of the DNA occurs; this is referred to as hypermethylation. Although medical science does not yet know whether hypermethylation always signifies cancer and in what form, a clear link has been shown.

In the NanoGap Sensor, the hypermethylated DNA is bound to receptors on both sides of the gap. By covering the DNA with metal particles, a live wire on a nanoscale is created that results in a short-circuit and a detectable signal.

Why is this so important

Thanks to this method, it is possible to read from DNA cells whether their carrier has bladder or kidney cancer in an early stage, so treatment has more success.


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Prof. Wilfred van der Wiel is a full professor of NanoElectronics at the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology of the University of Twente. He obtained his MSc. degree in Applied Physics from Delft University of Technology in 1997. He did his PhD research on electron transport in quantum dots and electron interferometers both at Delft University of Technology and NTT Basic Research Laboratories in Japan. He obtained his Ph.D. degree in 2002. After that he joined the University of Tokyo as a PostDoc. In 2005 he moved to the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Twente in The Netherlands, where he took the position of Program Leader of the interdisciplinary nanoelectronics program. Presently he holds the Chair NanoElectroncis.

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My expertise

Applied Physics, Quantum electronics, Hybrid inorganic nanoelectronincs, Hybrid organic nanoelectronics