Our Research

breast cancer detection

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One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. The earlier the cancer is detected, the better the survival chances. Since its widespread clinical deployment in the early 1990s, screening mammography has reduced the mortality rate for breast cancer by 39%. However, this approach cannot detect all tumours, and cannot recognize benign lesions from real tumours. Because the blood is in contact with every organ, including the breast, many people have tried to detect breast cancer with a simple blood test. However, considering the size of a tumor (especially before diagnosis) and the volume of blood, the clues are highly diluted, and current technologies have failed to reliably detect breast cancer in a droplet of blood.

Our Work

We are developing a novel technology that can simultaneously measure hundreds of different proteins associated with cancer in the blood with unrivalled accuracy. The technology will be exquisitely sensitive, inexpensive, and simple to use. We will use it to establish a molecular portrait - or fingerprint - of proteins in the blood for a large number of healthy women and cancer patients, and identify the molecular signatures of breast cancer. A successful outcome will thus produce a simple-to-use test to diagnose cancer using a droplet of blood and that could be performed at a physician’s office. The technology developed during this project will also become an attractive tool to study other cancer types, in terms of diagnosis in addition to prognosis and prediction of therapy efficiency.


The development of this technology will allow the identification of a molecular signature of breast cancer in blood. Then, the same easy-to-use and low-cost technology could be easily adapted as a rapid and noninvasive blood test in the physician's office to screen patients for breast cancer. It could be use as a standalone diagnosis test, or in combination to mammography, especially for women with dense breast for whom mammography is poorly efficient. This test should reduce mortality from breast cancer by a better and earlier detection. Thanks to the flexibility of this technology, it will be easy to perform similar study and come up with a similar test for all other types of cancer.


See the Technology

the antibody colocalization microarray

At the Micro & Nano Bioengineering Lab, we focus on identifying specific biomarkers in the blood that allow us to diagnose and detect various disease states. Biomarkers can include any measurable molecule that may indicate the presence of a particular disease, one such example being protein concentration. To make these measurements, we use a new technology that allows us to perform multiple measurements in small amounts of samples, the antibody colocalization microarray (ACM). Using a robotic pin spotter, we deposit tiny spots of antibodies, which are immune-system molecules that very specifically recognize proteins of interest.  Using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), we can detect hundreds of different proteins that can give a picture of the disease state.


First, a robotic pin-spotter delivers very small droplets of 'capture antibodies' (cAbs) specific to one type of protein biomarker. Each chip has 16 arrays of hundreds of these capture antibodies. These antibodies recognize and bind to specific proteins in your blood.

We add your processed blood sample on top of the capture antibodies. The floating dots are proteins in your blood that will bind to the capture antibodies.

Our machine prints a second round of small liquid spots that line up with the original spots. The new spots contain detection antibodies, which will also recognize and bind to specific proteins in your blood. Using this colocalization technique makes our method very sensitive and reliable because it is less prone to give false positive signals than other technologies.


Sample Processing

What is done with my blood sample?

After collecting your blood, we transport it back to the lab where we centrifuge it down in order to separate the cells from the plasma. The plasma is the component of blood that contains the proteins that we will be measuring during our analysis. After centrifuging the tubes, we collect the plasma by pipetting it into various cryovials. As you probably remember, we collected multiple tubes of blood from each participant. Each tube contains different additives, and therefore the resulting plasma can be used for various applications. Each tube is aliquoted into its own colour coordinated set of cryovials.

The plasma aliquots are stored on dry ice for the day to keep them cool. At the end of the day, all of the cryovials are moved into storage in our liquid nitrogen tank. This keeps the samples extremely cold in order to preserve them until they can be used in the analysis phase of the study.


Meet the Team

Our dedicated team of researchers and clinicians


Dr. David

Associate Professor
Dept. of Biomedical Engineering,
McGill University

Biomedical engineering, microfluidics, nanotechnology and biomarker discovery


Dr. Sarkis

Dept. of Oncology; Surgery
McGill University

Director of the Cedars Breast Clinic at the MUHC



Dr. Morag

Professor, Dept. of Biochemistry, McGill University

Director, Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Centre

Dr. Benoît

Associate Professor, Dept. of Radiology, McGill University

Cedar Breast Clinic


Clinical Team 


Clinical Research Nurse, Phlebotomist, McGill University


Clinical Research Nurse, Phlebotomist, McGill University


Clinical Research Assistant,
McGill University


Research Team

Dr. Karen

Research Associate, Study Coordinator

Dept. of Biomedical Engineering, McGill University

Pammy Lo

Research Assistant, Lab Manager

Dept. of Biomedical Engineering, McGill University


PhD Candidate, McGill University


Undergraduate Volunteer


Visiting Student 2015,
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne


Undergraduate Volunteer,
McGill University



Visiting Student 2014,
Queen's University


Frequently Asked Questions

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1. Can I participate in the study?
The study is only open to patients of the Cedar Breast Clinic at RVH in Montreal, Canada at this time, and is therefore not open to the general public. If you are a patient at Cedar Breast Clinic and meet the eligibility criteria, please contact Dr. Karen Gambaro at (514) 398 4400 ext. 09012.

2. What are the eligibility criteria?
For the breast cancer clinical study, the eligibility criteria are:
  • Women aged between 35-69 years of age.
  • No previous history of breast cancer.
  • No previous history of cancer within the past 5 years, with the exception of basal-cell skin cancer.

  • 3. Why was I selected to participate in the study?
    Our selection is a random process in order to prevent any bias. We have a list of all the appointments that day and then we randomly choose names from the list.

    4. How long does the procedure take?
    About 30 min, including the paper work.

    5. Will I need to come back for any other parts of the study?
    No, participation in this study is a one time commitment. Although our recruitment phase will extend over a 12 month period, we will require no further actions from you after your initial contribution.

    6. Could my decision to participate in the study affect the medical care given to me?
    Absolutely not. Participation in this study will not, in any way, affect the care given by Cedar Breast Clinic.

    7. Are the samples anonymized?
    Yes, samples are coded are names and ID are kept in the Dr. Meterissian office only.

    8. Will I be receiving personal results?
    We will not be giving out any individual results. We are a research, not diagnostic, facility and thus do not have diagnostic authority. Additionally, our recruitment phase is expected to extend over a 12 month period, and thus the analysis phase will not begin until recruitment is complete. This means that if a positive result is found through our study, the diagnosis at that point in time would be outdated and you would have already received one from the clinic.

    9. How long until a commercial product is developed for public use?
    The recruitment phase for this study is expected to run for a duration of 12 months. After that, the analysis phase will start. This is likely the most unpredictable stage of the trial time-wise, and therefore it is not possible at this point to give an accurate estimate. You may track our progress on this website, where we will be posting periodic updates of the progress of the study as a whole.

    10. How long are blood samples kept?
    Samples are stored in the Biobank for 25 years after the end of the project. After this time, the samples will be destroyed.

    11. What are the recruitment statistics like?
    We recruit an average of 4-6 women per day to participate in our study. Generally, we must dedicate approximately 2 hours/person in order to see their recruitment through from start to finish. This time period encompasses the paperwork, blood draw, transport of samples to the lab and finally sample processing.

    12. What sort of proteins are you looking for?
    When detecting any sort of disease, we must be able to find something unique about that specific condition which we can scan for. Cancer presents a challenge in this regard as cancer cells are our own body’s cells. What has been noted about cancerous cells however is they have a slightly different protein profile than healthy cells. Many cancers upregulate proteins involved in various cellular pathways including those used for proliferation, growth, survival etc. This provides us with our starting point, where we will be scanning for differences in the levels of these types of proteins between healthy participants and those with cancer.

    13. Is there compensation to participate in this study?
    No, you will receive no personal benefit from your participation in this research project. We hope, however, that the results obtained will permit us to further our knowledge in the area of cancer research by allowing identification of blood biomarkers and eventually, benefit society as a whole.