Tiny sponges offer a big new net for biomarkers

A microsponge crafted from seaweed has become the "dirt cheap" basis for a new tool that can snare a wide range of biomarkers, a new approach aimed at accelerating and improving the diagnosis of cancer and other diseases.

Investigators at Rice say that agarose makes a perfect nano-net that can sweep up everything from big protein biomarkers to drug metabolites in blood and other types of body fluids. "We create an ultrahigh-surface-area microsponge that collects a large amount of material," Professor John McDevitt tells Fast Company. "The sponge is like a jellyfish with tentacles that capture the biomarkers."

By spreading a wider net than current diagnostics, McDevitt hopes to deliver new technology that can swiftly deliver a big payload of information on a person's health, whether they're in a hospital or in the streets. And, he adds, they should be far superior in helping identify early-stage diseases, giving physicians the information they need to start treatment when it can do the most good. Rice is now hosting six clinical trials to test the technology.

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