To evaluate how tumor cells from an individual cancer patient might react to chemotherapy drugs, researchers from Technische Universität München (TUM) developed a tiny microfluidic device that can automate the testing process.
The microsensors on the chip record, among other things, changes in the acid content of the medium and the cells’ oxygen consumption; photographs of the process are also taken by a microscope fitted underneath the microtitre plate. All of the data merge in a computer that is connected to the system, and which provides an overview of the metabolic activity of the tumor cells and their vitality.
The robots and microtitre plates are kept in a climatic chamber, which, through precisely regulated temperature and humidity, provides an environment similar to that of the human body, and also protects the tumor cells against external influences that can falsify the test results.
After the tumor cells have been able to divide undisturbed for a few hours, the robot applies an anti-cancer substance. If their metabolic activity declines over the next day or two, the active substance was able to kill the tumor cells and the drug is effective. Using the microchips, twenty-four active substances or combinations of active substances can be tested simultaneously in this way.
The gain in time for the patient is not the only positive factor here. Dr. Helmut Grothe, a scientist from the Heinz Nixdorf Chair at the TUM, explains: “Treatment with an ineffective cancer drug sometimes leads to the development of resistance to other drugs in the patient.” Such resistance on the part of the tumor cells can also be identified at an early stage with the help of the sensor chip.
Another advantage of the system is its automation. The robot works faster and more accurately than any human could. Hence, the test results can be obtained quickly, which, in turn, saves on costs. Furthermore, the possibility of testing tumor cells with several active substances simultaneously facilitates the search for effective substances for individually-tailored cancer treatment. Pharmaceutical companies may also be able to use the sensor chip in the development of new drugs in future.
As part of another research project, the scientists at the Heinz Nixdorf Chair are also developing a sensor chip that is intended to control tumor growth. The chip, which would be implanted once in the vicinity of the tumor, could release cancer drugs or pain medication only when the tumor grows. The release of the active substances would be controlled by electric impulses. This sensor system could be used in the treatment of inoperable tumors, for example pancreatic tumors.
Full story from Technische Universität München: Mini-Lab for Cancer Diagnosis….