Washington: In ray of hope for those at risk of developing pancreatic cancer, scientists are developing a credit card-sized, low cost device that could help doctors diagnose pancreatic cancer earlier and faster.

The prototype can perform the basic steps for processing a biopsy, relying on fluid transport instead of human hands to process the tissue.

“This new process is expected to help the pathologist make a more rapid diagnosis and be able to determine more accurately how invasive the cancer has become, leading to improved prognosis,” said Eric Seibel, a research professor of mechanical engineering at University of Washington (UW).

This prototype of a microfluidic device has both curved and straight channels for transporting tissue biopsies. The silicon material is lightweight, flexible and transparent.

How does it work?

The microfluidics allows tissue to move and stop with ease through small channels without needing to apply a lot of external force.

It also keeps clinicians from having to handle the tissue. Instead, a tissue biopsy taken with a syringe needle could be deposited directly into the device to begin processing.

The new technology would essentially automate and streamline the manual, time-consuming process a pathology lab goes through to diagnose cancer.

The new technology would process and analyze whole tissue biopsies for 3-D imaging which offers a more complete picture of the cellular makeup of a tumour, explained Ronnie Das, a UW postdoctoral researcher in bioengineering.

Das and Chris Burfeind, a UW undergraduate student in mechanical engineering, designed the device to be simple to manufacture and use.

They first built a mould using a petri dish and Teflon tubes and then poured a viscous, silicon material into the mould.

The result is a small, transparent instrument with seamless channels that are both curved and straight.

The technology could be used overseas as an over-the-counter kit that would process biopsies, then send that information to pathologists who could look for signs of cancer from remote locations.

Pancreatic cancer is a particularly devastating disease. At least 94 percent of patients die within five years.

In 2013, it was ranked as one of the top 10 deadliest cancers, said the researchers in their study.

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