New test for sexually transmitted virus could reduce cancer risks

Wednesday, 3 September, 2014
One of the keys for treating and reducing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases is accurate, fast and affordable means of detection. This is especially true for the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted virus that, according to medical researchers, is the leading cause of cervical cancer.

To help reduce the risk, the European Union (EU)-funded project NANO-MUBIOP has developed a new method of detecting HPV that stands to be more reliable, faster and less expensive than current tests.

“The most popular test for HPV needs to be updated. Our idea was to improve upon current tests, and we were able to do so with the help of state-of-art technology,” says biologist and project coordinator, Matteo Fallani, of Hospitex Diagnostics in Florence, Italy.

Fallani said his team developed a test that combines nanotechnology and laser technology to quickly and accurately detect more than 100 types of HPV.

“Each variation of the virus carries a different degree of danger,” explains Fallani. “So it is very important to detect the specific kind of HPV that a person could be infected with,” he adds.

NANO-MUBIOP’s new test for HPV has potential significant implications in the fight against cervical cancer - the second most common type of cancer found in women, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). More than 270,000 women die annually from this form of cancer, according to the WHO, and about 500,000 new cases are reported each year. More than 85 per cent of cases occur in developing countries, according to medical researchers, with clusters existing in South and Central America, sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia. In these areas, access to screening is limited and expensive.

In Europe, about 30 percent of the female population is between 35-60 years of age, according to NANO-MUBIOP researchers, putting them at risk of being exposed to HPV. “The virus also contributes to other types of cancer that affect both women and men,” adds Fallani, “including throat, genital and rectal cancer.”

The NANO-MUBIOP team has developed a prototype of a testing machine that is expected to be commercialised and then used in developing countries. “This machine could be used in any context – such as hospitals, labs and doctor’s offices. It is compact (about 50cm wide), fully automatic and does not require a highly skilled person to operate it,” says Fallani.

NANO-MUBIOP team has obtained the final European patent, and the testing methodology has been registered in several EU countries, including Belgium, France and Germany. “The next phase,” concludes Fallani, “is to obtain public or private financing to commercialise the methodology and equipment.”

Enhanced sensitivity nanotechnology-based multiplexed bioassay platform for diagnostic applications
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