A STAR Trek-style gadget that can detect cancers and other diseases without the need for surgery is being developed by scientists. The team at Yale University claim the portable biomarker detector will be able to identify signs of illness from a sample of blood within 20 minutes. The device, similar to Dr McCoys tricorder in the science fiction series, could revolutionise patient diagnosis which at present is both expensive and time consuming. The device, expected to be about the size of a paperback book, works by detecting biomarkers in the blood, substances that suggest that a patient is diseased. The sensor, which uses nanotechnology, is so accurate that it could pick up a grain of salt in a swimming pool, claim the researchers. Doctors could have these small, portable devices in their offices and get nearly instant readings, said Dr Tarek Fahmy a biomedical engineer at Yale University. They could also carry them into the field and test patients on site. Current tests for cancer and heart disease are subjective, expensive and labour intensive. TG They involve taking a blood sample, sending it to a laboratory, using a centrifuge to separate the different components, isolating the plasma and putting it through an hours-long chemical analysis. The whole process takes several days. In comparison, the new device is able to read out biomarker concentrations in just 20 minutes. The new device could also be used to test for a wide range of diseases at the same time, from ovarian cancer to cardiovascular disease, Professor Mark Reed co-author said. The great advantage of the new machine is that it has a built in filter, to remove chemicals that would otherwise distort the readings. In Star Trek there is a device called a tricorder, which they used to scan living or nonliving matter to determine its molecular make-up. It could also be used to detect diseases. The latest research, which appears in Nature Nanotechnology, demonstrates the usefulness of nanosensors, which can detect tiny, tiny particles that traditional measuring devices miss. One problem in the past has been removing the background noise from the results which distort the findings. The current researchers think they have managed to overcome that problem. Nanosensors have been around for the past decade, but they only worked in controlled, laboratory settings, Professor Reed said. This is the first time weve been able to use them with whole blood, which is a complicated solution containing proteins and ions and other things that affect detection. TG