Mutation Finder

Researchers create more mobile, efficient system to detect genes associated with cancers

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A gene linked to certain cancers just got a little easier to find, thanks to researchers in the College of Engineering and College of Science.

Electrical engineering Assistant Professor Samir Iqbal and biology Assistant Professor Shawn Christensen devised a system to electronically detect a gene mutation implicated in 90 percent of pancreatic cancers and frequently linked to lung cancer. Their method involves running tiny amounts of blood over nanomaterials.

There are many versions, or alleles, of a given gene within a population,” Dr. Christensen explains. “People can have slightly different variations of a gene due to mutation and genetic recombination. Some mutations can predispose an individual to a given disease, while others may lead to protection from the same or different disease.”

The research could help physicians prescribe therapy and healthy behaviors that may delay or eliminate the risk for patients predisposed to these diseases.

Our work could be used to detect any genetic marker,” Dr. Iqbal says. “If a disease has a known genetic component, we can tell you whether you have the gene that might lead to the disease.”

Other processes accomplish similar results, but they require the detection of fluorescent dyes or radioactivity, more labor, or bulky, expensive machinery. In contrast, Iqbal and Christensen’s screening process uses only a quarter of a milliliter of blood. It also improves detection speed, sensitivity, and portability.

We can incorporate into a small handheld device the electrical detection process we have demonstrated,” Iqbal says. “The mobile technology can then be used outside the laboratory to ascertain if someone carries specific genes or not, just like a glucometer currently does.”

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