Cervical cancer is diagnosed in over 1,000 Canadian women each year, and approximately 400 women die from the disease annually. Women need to undergo regular cervical cancer screening, as early detection can significantly increase the chances of successful treatment. However, in Ontario, women are only eligible for the Pap Test (or Pap smear) every three years.

CT Murphy a Nanotechnology Engineering (NE) graduate (BASc ’23) aims to create a new testing method that allows women to screen for the human papillomavirus (HPV) that usually causes cervical cancer.

 Murphy has spearheaded the development of CELLECT, an innovative startup focused on enhancing access to cervical cancer and HPV screening. They aim to use nanomaterials integrated into menstrual products to detect HPV and cervical cancer markers directly from menstrual blood samples. This pioneering approach holds the promise of revolutionizing screening practices, potentially eliminating the need for invasive Pap smears.

“I did my undergraduate degree in Nanotechnology Engineering and my Capstone group was looking for ideas for our fourth-year design project,” says Murphy. “I had recently turned 21 and had my first pap smear. I found it to be a very invasive experience and I decided to create an alternative testing method. For me personally, I want this technology to exist, so I'm going to work my hardest to make sure that that happens.”

Murphy decided to leverage their degree and conduct research to inspire ideas for a new testing method. They recruited teammates for the fourth-year design project. The team achieved good results and was nominated for the Sustainability Award.

Murphy’s Capstone project was supervised by Chemical Engineering Professor Marc Aucoin. Murphy is now pursuing a Masters degree supervised by Aucoin to continue her research and develop a menstrual product, like a tampon, that can be used for HPV and cervical cancer testing by making menstrual blood compatible for analysis. This innovation will offer women a convenient and less invasive way to conduct cancer screening using their own bodily fluids.

Murphy found the transition to doing graduate work in Chemical Engineering as a natural progression from the bio specialization in the NE program. In the third and fourth years when NE students are given the option to pursue their technical interests, Murphy took all the bio-courses.

The program's allowance for selecting a specialization in biology empowers students to grasp the intricate interconnections inherent in nano-bio systems, fostering a deeper understanding of interdisciplinary dynamics,” says Murphy. “At the nano level chemistry, physics, and biology bleed into each other. The NE program prepares  students to make an impact in the world of biomedical applications.”

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