Capturing bladder cancer cells from urine

January 2019

A high-tech microfluidic device, capable of detecting urothelial cancer cells in urine samples, could lead to the world-first commercially available non-invasive screening test for bladder cancer.

“ANFF-SA is helping us to optimise the performance and scale-ability of our complex microfluidic device by delivering critical data and analysis which we’d have to otherwise outsource.” Dr Melanie MacGregor

The novel technology was designed at the University of South Australia’s (UniSA) Future Industries Institute by Dr Melanie MacGregor, together with a large team of collaborators, including the South Australian node of the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF-SA).

Melanie was testing a microfluidic device, developed and optimised by ANFF-SA, to detect kidney cells in urine samples when she discovered urothelial cancer cells instead. Further investigation revealed that few advancements had been made in bladder cancer detection and it was almost as big a problem as kidney disease.

More than 3,000 Australians are diagnosed with bladder cancer each year through a cystoscopy, an invasive and painful medical procedure, which enables a doctor to look inside the bladder with a small camera. Due to high recurrence rates of the disease, survivors require regular cystoscopies for the rest of their lives, making bladder cancer one of the most expensive cancers to detect.

Offering a pain-free, accurate and cost-effective diagnostic technique, Melanie’s microfluidic device uses plasma coating technology and biomarkers to capture bladder cancer cells from a patient’s urine sample.

The device has the potential to revolutionise traditional invasive bladder cancer screenings by offering a non-invasive method for early detection as well as enhance the lives of thousands of people whose lives are impacted by the disease.

Melanie’s research and proof of concept device quickly attracted financial support from Adelaide-based SMR, matched by the Australian government in a $9m CRC-P project to expand SMR’s manufacturing facilities, conduct clinical trials and prepare the device for global markets.

ANFF-SA’s unique and world-class blend of equipment, facilities and expertise is supporting Melanie’s research team with the finest accuracy data, enabling her to not just understand the parameters of her complicated device, but to develop sophisticated iterations accordingly.

“ANFF-SA is helping us to optimise the performance and scale-ability of our complex microfluidic device by delivering critical data and analysis which we’d have to otherwise outsource,” said Melanie.

Melanie also noted that the ANFF-SA’s team of experts had saved her from having to learn a new field of physics with a computational modelling and simulation expert able to help solve her complex fluid problems.

“Having ANFF-SA located on the same campus as our research team has been so beneficial to our project,” said Melanie. “From fine accuracy measuring data with their state-of-the-art profilometer through to predicting the dynamics and behaviour of fluid within the microchannels of our device, I know ANFF-SA is completely committed to optimising the capabilities of our bladder cancer detection device.”

Encouraging results from pilot studies have supported a clinical trial to test the device for efficacy. ANFF-SA’s state-of-the-art fabrication and characterisation equipment, facilities and technical experts support and facilitate research success. Contact ANFF-SA today to find out how we can assist with your next project.