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Researchers at the Dutch University of Twente’s (UT) MESA+ Institute are developing a rapid test to detect cancer. The test detects DNA fragments in bodily fluids such as urine. It is essential that the test does not miss any fragments. To achieve this, the sensitivity of the test still needs to be improved.

Biological markers

In some types of cancer, biological markers are present in bodily fluids at an early stage. A biological marker is an indicator that can signal whether a person is ill, how the disease is progressing, and which treatment may be effective. In cases of bowel and lung cancer, for example, markers have been found in feces and urine. UT is working with Amsterdam University Medical Center on tests to identify these markers.

The markers are DNA fragments that are unique to each type of cancer. That is why each type needs a different test so it can be detected.

Binding sites

There are very few fragments present in urine, something that is also often the case in other bodily fluids. An incredibly sensitive method is needed to detect these. A test that has as few sources of contamination in the sample as possible. This can be done, for example, by purifying the urine sample beforehand. The researchers have now chosen to increase the number of binding sites in the test.


The researchers do this by using polyelectrolyte multilayers (PEMs). These are polymers that have an electrical charge and are built up in layers. These layers form a solid structure. When these layers are built directly on top of each other, a dense structure is created that has very few binding sites.

The researchers’ new method prevents the layers from becoming even tighter. This makes the ‘structure’ more open and provides more places where DNA fragments can attach themselves.

Liquid biopsy

The method enhances the possibilities for liquid biopsies. This concerns research into bodily fluids instead of a tissue biopsy. In a biopsy, tissue samples need to be removed for testing. Liquid biopsy is on the rise in the medical world. It is simpler and cheaper. Apart from cancer, this method is already used in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cystic fibrosis.

Previously, Innovation Origins reported on a study conducted by the Twente start-up ECsens into DNA mutations caused by cancer. An earlier article about a spin-off from the UT involving a robot that can perform biopsies was also published.

The researchers of the MESA+ Institute have collaborated with the Center for Soft Nanoscience at the German University of Münster. The full report can be found here.