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  • Canada Boosts McMaster Microlab Device Research
Dec 2006
HAMILTON, Ontario, Dec. 13, 2006 -- Like miniature labs, the microtechnology and nanotechnology-based biosensors and imaging devices will be swallowed like a pill, injected through a catheter or woven into fabric to screen for, detect and potentially treat cancer and other diseases when they are still at a single-cell size in early development stages. They will also detect harmful pathogens in food and water.

Engineering researchers at McMaster University will be escalating their efforts to develop such devices as the result of a recent $4.25 million grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

"This research is opening up a new front in the battle against cancer and other diseases," said Jamal Deen, the lead applicant, professor of electrical and computer engineering and Canada Research Chair in Information Technology, at McMaster University. "The technology zeros in on specific malignant cells at an early stage when treatment can be more effective and potential side effects minimized."

The funding is part of a $10.6 million initiative to expand existing nanofabrication and integration facilities at McMaster to establish a micro- and nano-systems laboratory for the development of miniaturized, low-cost and easy-to-use prototypes for imaging and sensing in health-care and environmental applications.

"The imaging and sensing technologies being pursued would be noninvasive, removing the discomfort, expense and risk associated with many screening procedures, such as a colonoscopy," said Qiyin Fang, assistant professor of engineering physics and the Canada Research Chair in biophotonics at McMaster. "It would therefore allow for large-scale screening for early disease detection."

The biosensors and imaging devices being explored are based on integrating dissimilar technologies such as DNA, semiconductors, nanowires and polymers into "smart systems" on a small chip. The resulting microlabs could contain miniaturized systems for fluid filtration, DNA extraction, cell processing, imaging, computing, wireless communications, and laser and radiation detection systems.

Research currently underway includes a miniature (pill-sized) device that will provide early detection of abnormal cells inside the body; an imaging and communication system for noninvasive screening in target organs systems such as the breast, pancreas and gastrointestinal tract and the relaying of information to an external receiver; ingestible and insertable noninvasive imagers for routine screening of pancreatic and gastrointestinal tumors; and sensors that can detect food- and water-borne pathogens.

"The ultimate goal is to develop reliable and inexpensive detection and imaging products that can be used in a doctor's office or possibly even at home as part of a regular exam," said Steve Hranilovic, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at McMaster. "This would address wait-time and cost issues associated with MRI, CT and other imaging facilities. It would also reduce the misdiagnosis and uncertainty associated with self-examinations."

Research has shown that early detection of cancer improves cure and survival rates dramatically, the university said in a statememt. "For example, the five-year survival rate of breast cancer patients when a tumor is detected at less than two centimeters in size is 98 per cent. It is only 26 per cent when the tumor is larger than five centimeters. For colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death, at least 90 per cent of cases can be cured with proper screening and surveillance," it said.

Engineering faculty at McMaster are working closely with colleagues in the health sciences on this research, as well as with researchers at the Universities of Toronto, Waterloo and Calgary; McGill University; and the National Research Council.

Plans call for the lab to occupy approximately 9600 square feet and to include a clean room, bonding and packaging facilities, and characterization, prototyping and testing facilities.

"The development of this unique infrastructure complements research already underway at McMaster in the related fields of biomedical engineering, manufacturing and materials, information technology, and nanotechnology," said M. A. Elbestawi, dean of McMaster's mechanical engineering department and a member of the its Manufacturing Research Institute. "Funding support from government is seeding a nanotechnology cluster in Canada that can compete internationally."

The CFI is an independent corporation created by the Government of Canada to fund research  at universities, colleges, research hospitals and nonprofit research institutions.

For more information, visit:

The use of atoms, molecules and molecular-scale structures to enhance existing technology and develop new materials and devices. The goal of this technology is to manipulate atomic and molecular particles to create devices that are thousands of times smaller and faster than those of the current microtechnologies.
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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