It is not surprising that medical sensors are very expensive. First of all, research costs reach the final product. Secondly, manufacturing standards are not easy to maintain. Thirdly, they use exotic materials that are time-consuming and expensive to run. Ironically, as scientists from the University of Queensland have found, gold might be the answer to that third problem.
Researchers in Australia have developed biosensors that use nanoengineered porous gold instead of some complex expensive synthetic materials. Contrary to how it sounds like, this approach allows creating heaper, faster and ultrasensitive biosensors. Sure, gold is expensive, but it is also extremely malleable, which helps making ultra thin sheets from it. Also, gold is not as expensive as some synthetic materials, currently used in biosensors.
It is also quite incredible how flexible this invention is. Scientists say that their platform, created through 15 years of research, can perform disease detection from very small fluid samples. Blood, urine, saliva or plasma can be used for rapid disease detection. Small drops of the selected fluid are passed through a surface covered in a gold film, which has millions of tiny pores. The device then detects disease-specific miRNA. This platform can be used to diagnose a wide variety of different conditions, including cancer, which is still difficult to diagnose at the early stages of the disease. Mostafa Masud, one of the researchers in the study, said: “This new diagnostic technique allows for direct detection of disease-specific miRNA, which wasn’t previously possible. This is especially important for patients at an early stage of a disease such as cancer, who do not have detectable amounts of other biomarkers, but may have a detectable quantity of exosomal miRNA biomarker”.
Probably the best thing about it is that this can be achieved for a quarter of the cost of other diagnostic techniques. Or will be, because this approach is still not available. In fact, scientists are forecasting that this platform will be available to medical practitioners in the next five years. However, there are some good news too. Scientists believe that this platform will be particularly useful in remote locations and developing countries where rapid and early diagnostics are critical. It will also be very useful in various viral disease outbreaks.
Gold has been used in medicine for hundreds of years. People used to take gold supplements for various nervous system conditions and even alcoholism. Gold alloys are still sometimes used in dentistry. And the isotope gold-198 is still used in radiotherapy in some cancer treatments.
Source: University of Queensland