Theranostics 2020; 10(17):7872-7888. doi:10.7150/thno.44634


Urine biopsy technologies: Cancer and beyond

Chun Kwan Chen#, Junchen Liao#, Man Sze Li, Bee Luan Khoo

Department of Biomedical Engineering, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China.
#These authors contributed equally to this work.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Chen CK, Liao J, Li MS, Khoo BL. Urine biopsy technologies: Cancer and beyond. Theranostics 2020; 10(17):7872-7888. doi:10.7150/thno.44634. Available from

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Since the discovery of circulating tumor cells in 1869, technological advances in the study of biomarkers from liquid biopsy have made it possible to diagnose disease in a less invasive way. Although blood-based liquid biopsy has been used extensively for the detection of solid tumors and immune diseases, the potential of urine-based liquid biopsy has not been fully explored. Advancements in technologies for the harvesting and analysis of biomarkers are providing new opportunities for the characterization of other disease types. Liquid biopsy markers such as exfoliated bladder cancer cells, cell-free DNA (cfDNA), and exosomes have the potential to change the nature of disease management and care, as they allow a cost-effective and convenient mode of patient monitoring throughout treatment. In this review, we addressed the advancement of research in the field of disease detection for the key liquid biopsy markers such as cancer cells, cfDNA, and exosomes, with an emphasis on urine-based liquid biopsy. First, we highlighted key technologies that were widely available and used extensively for clinical urine sample analysis. Next, we presented recent technological developments in cell and genetic research, with implications for the detection of other types of diseases, besides cancer. We then concluded with some discussions on these areas, emphasizing the role of microfluidics and artificial intelligence in advancing point-of-care applications. We believe that the benefits of urine biopsy provide diagnostic development potential, which will pave opportunities for new ways to guide treatment selections and facilitate precision disease therapies.

Keywords: Liquid biopsy, exfoliated bladder cancer cells, cell-free DNA, extracellular vesicles, disease monitoring