A vibrating disc could have uses in laboratory diagnosis by identifying and monitoring common types of cancer, providing specialists with information about the most appropriate therapeutic strategy.
The research team hope to use this as a base for producing a hand-held device, which would enable samples of blood, smear or biopsy to be tested quickly and accurately, for signs of cancer of the breast, cervix, colon or rectum.
What is unique about this disc is its size. At less than one-tenth of a millimetre in diameter, the discs are coated with special patterns of DNA or proteins, which cause the cancer-specific markers to bind to the surface.
The device would identify 'cancer specific markers' - proteins or other molecules produced by cancer cells - which vary according to the type of cancer and are distinct from proteins produced by healthy cells.
"Early diagnosis and effective monitoring of cancers are known to be key factors influencing outcome," said Professor Calum McNeil, of the School of Clinical and Laboratory Sciences at Newcastle University, who is also leading the project.
At the heart of a micro-gyroscope is a vibrating disc that must be almost perfectly formed to operate correctly.
The theory is that a near-perfect disc could be turned into an extremely sensitive weighing machine because the addition of a tiny weight would make it vibrate unevenly.
The discs are created in a silicon wafer and made to vibrate electronically in two modes.
When a cancer-specific marker binds to the surface of a disc, in the pattern of the coating, the uneven weight causes one of the modes of vibration to change in frequency.
The difference between the frequencies of the two modes of vibration is measured, enabling the detection of tiny amounts of cancer specific marker.
In theory, even the weight of a single molecule binding to the surface of a disc could be detected. .
"The technology could provide specialists with advice about the most appropriate therapy for a particular patient, since the devices could easily be connected to sources of information such as a hospital computer network, the internet or a mobile phone," McNeil added.
The researchers believe that the technology could eventually be developed for other types of cancer and a range of other diseases, including those caused by bacteria.
This opens up the possibility of hospitals being able to screen new patients and visitors for MRSA, tuberculosis and other diseases to prevent the infections being carried into the wards.
Such is its potential, the European Commission awarded €12 million to an international consortium led by Newcastle University, England, to develop the biosensor technology towards clinical trials stage.