Each electrode of the fuel cell performs a different function. The anode (positive electrode) carries a component that can detect miRNA-125a – a biomarker that indicates the presence of a type of leukemia. When the anode detects the biomarker, it releases an anticancer drug, which goes on to kills the cancer cells.
Meanwhile, the cathode (negative electrode) detects the treated cancer cells, and confirms that the treatment has worked. The device gives off a signal when it detects treated cancer cells, so an observer is able to follow the progress of the treatment.
So far the device is only suitable for us in the lab, rather than in the body. However this is still very useful as it allows scientists to test different cancer drugs on different types of cancer. In theory this could one day allow us to develop personalised drugs for individuals based on their specific type of cancer. Not only that but the authors hope that one day it will be possible to plant a device like this into humans, allowing it to diagnose and treat cancer all in one – and feed back on how well the treatment is working.
This article is free to read in our open access, flagship journal Chemical Science: Linlin Wang et al., Chem. Sci., 2018, Advance Article. DOI: 10.1039/C8SC04019B. You can access all of our ChemSci Picks in this article collection.