New Teardrop Technology May Provide Earlier Cancer Detection

A study at UC Irvine, which used a microscopic transistor to study bacteria-fighting agents in teardrops may also have an impact on cancer detection. Researchers believe the transistor technology may be able to detect single molecules associated with cancer, leading to earlier detection of the disease and faster and more effective treatment.

Researchers at UC Irvine were interested in discovering how a disease-fighting protein found in human teardrops was capable of destroying much larger specimens of bacteria. Lysozymes, the antiseptic proteins found in human tears, were discovered nearly a century ago by Alexander Fleming. However, scientists were unsure until now of the mechanisms involved in the bacteria-fighting process of the proteins.

To examine the microscopic proteins at work, researchers built one of the world’s tiniest transistors, 25 times smaller than similar types of circuitry used in laptops and smart phones. Lysozymes were attached to the live wire in the transistor and their activities were monitored. Scientists found that the lysozymes relentlessly used a feature similar to a jaw to eat through the cell walls of dangerous bacteria, thus destroying the bacteria before it could cause harmful infections.

It took several years for the researchers to develop the transistor and attach single molecules of the protein to it. While the authors of the study believe it may take several more years to build a similar device capable of detecting single molecules of cancer, the effort may well be worth it.

Detection of cancer at the molecular level translates to extremely early detection. When cancer is detected early, the success rates of treatment are substantially higher and the costs and side effects involved in treatment are much lower.
The results and findings of the transistor study were published in the January 20, 2012 edition of the scientific journal Science.


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