SOUTH BEND, Ind. (CBS Local) — Researchers at the University of Notre Dame have received $2.9 million to develop a new diagnostic platform that could diagnose cancer in as little as three hours by using only one or two drops of blood.

With the award from the National Institutes of Health, researchers will integrate technologies that will improve the analysis of extracellular RNA (exRNA), which are molecules critical to disease development.

Researchers say exRNA carries information about cellular makeup and, therefore, the release of exRNA from tumor cells may offer important details such as tumor type and size.

“Current technology has allowed for the identification of exRNA, but slowly, and the results are typically inefficient and lack the quality needed to determine a diagnosis,” said Hsueh-Chia Chang, the Bayer Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and project lead.

“Our proposed diagnostic platform will separate the nanoparticle carriers, release their exRNA cargo and then identify the disease biomarkers, all by integrating an array of technologies invented by our research team here at Notre Dame,” he added.

The research team is affiliated with Notre Dame’s Harper Cancer Research Institute and the Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics initiative.