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University of Birmingham scientists use new hydrogel to create ‘lollipops’ for oral cancer diagnosis


Researchers from University of Birmingham received funding from Cancer research in the UK and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to create a new “lollipop” diagnostic for oral cancer using a new smart hydrogel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The biocompatibility of the hydrogel means that it can be used in vitro or directly on patients, as in the case of the current project, which aims to replace the current invasive and time-consuming diagnostics that must be carried out by healthcare professionals.

“Smart hydrogels have really exciting potential for diagnosing oral cancer. They can be easily molded into a solid to “catch” proteins in saliva, and we hope we can be the first to make a device that is much more user-friendly for diagnosing oral cancer in patients and easier to use for general practitioners. ” said Dr. Gupta.

Dr. Gupta added: “Beyond this project, we are interested in investigating other possibilities for hydrogel and would welcome approaches to this research or commercial organizations wishing to collaborate on research or commercialization.”

Learn more:

University of Birmingham develops new diagnostic for head injuries

University of Birmingham develops new 3D bioprinting methods for health


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