University of Birmingham scientists using novel hydrogel to create ‘lollipops’ for mouth cancer diagnostic

Researchers from the University of Birmingham have received funding from Cancer Research UK and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to create a new ‘lollipop’ diagnostic for mouth cancer using a novel smart hydrogel.

Developed by Dr Ruchi Gupta and colleagues from the School of Chemistry, the biocompatible hydrogel concentrates and labels proteins with a fluorescent marker in a single step, making it suitable for diagnostics that aim to detect low abundance proteins from small sample sizes according to the University.

The hydrogel achieves protein capture via the fluorescent marker (fluorescein isothiocyanate or FITC), which is attached to the hydrogel by a photocleavable bond. On exposure to light, the protein, which is now attached to the fluorescein, is released from the hydrogel.

The university says that initial studies on the gel, published last year in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Analyst journal, showed the gel offered a concentration factor of 236 with a reference protein (streptavidin), and 50% of the proteins used in the hydrogel were released after 100 seconds exposure to UV light.

According to the team, diagnostics are a new landscape for biogels, which up until now have been used for drug delivery and tissue regeneration.

The gel developed by Dr Gupta and the team offers benefits over existing diagnostic techniques according to the university. The team says it has fewer steps than ELISA-based assays, or preconcentration using beads and electrophoresis, and can be conducted at room temperature.

Cancer Research Horizon’s, the innovation engine built to complement Cancer Research UK’s network, has filed a patent application for the novel hydrogel, and the Birmingham researchers are seeking collaborators or partners to develop further applications.

The hydrogel’s biocompatibility means it can be used either in vitro, or directly on patients, as with the current project, which aims to replace current invasive, time-consuming diagnostic that are required to be conducted by medical professionals.

“Smart hydrogels have really exciting potential for diagnosing mouth cancer. They can be easily moulded into shapes as a solid to ‘catch’ proteins in saliva, and we’re hoping that we can be the first to make a device which is much kinder for diagnosing mouth cancer for patients and easier for GPs to use,” said Dr Gupta.

Dr Gupta added: “Beyond this project, we’re keen to investigate other possibilities for the hydrogel, and will welcome approaches from this research or commercial organisations who want to collaborate on research or commercialisation.”

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This post originally appeared on TechToday.