Blood testing via sound waves may replace some tissue biopsies

Microfluidic device uses acoustics to quickly analyze blood for signatures of cancer and other diseases.

Cells secrete nanoscale packets called exosomes that carry important messages from one part of the body to another. Scientists from MIT and other institutions have now devised a way to intercept these messages, which could be used to diagnose problems such as cancer or fetal abnormalities.

Their new device uses a combination of microfluidics and sound waves to isolate these exosomes from blood. The researchers hope to incorporate this technology into a portable device that could analyze patient blood samples for rapid diagnosis, without involving the cumbersome and time-consuming ultracentrifugation method commonly used today.

This schematic shows a microfluidic device that uses sound waves to separate exosomes (pink spheres) from other components of blood.
Courtesy of Mengxi Wu, Ming Dao, Subra Suresh, Yoel Sadovsky and Tony Jun Huang

“These exosomes often contain specific molecules that are a signature of certain abnormalities. If you isolate them from blood, you can do biological analysis and see what they reveal,” says Ming Dao, a principal research scientist in MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering and a senior author of the study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of Sept. 18.

The paper’s senior authors also include Subra Suresh, president-designate of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, MIT’s Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering Emeritus, and a former dean of engineering at MIT; Tony Jun Huang, a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke University; and Yoel Sadovsky, director of the Magee-Women’s Research Institute. The paper’s lead author is Duke graduate student Mengxi Wu.

Click here for the full article on the MIT website