Van der Wiel calls his idea the 'NanoGap sensor', a gap about 100 nanometres wide (a nanometre is a million times smaller than a millimetre) in an electrode (precious metal) with receptors that raise an alarm in the case of degraded DNA. He focuses specifically on DNA in urine, from which it is possible to 'read' whether there is any indication of early-stage bladder, kidney and, in women, cervical cancer.
"In the current situation we only detect cancer at an advanced stage, when the patient already has symptoms, for example, associated with a tumour", says Van der Wiel. "In this study, we look for DNA where something has changed, i.e. DNA that is covered by the body with methyl groups. In many cancers excessive methylation of the DNA occurs, a process called hypermethylation. Although medical science does not yet know whether hypermethylation always signifies cancer and in what form, a clear link has been shown."
Cooperation has been established with the VUmc and health insurer Zilveren Kruis. Zilveren Kruis supports the research with more than half a million euros.
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