Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Sensor biochips could aid in cancer diagnosis and treatment

Munich researchers develop new test process for cancer drugs

It is very difficult to predict whether a cancer drug will help an individual patient: only around one third of drugs will work directly in a given patient.

Researchers at the Heinz Nixdorf Chair for Medical Electronics at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) have developed a new test process for cancer drugs. With the help of microchips, they can establish in the laboratory whether a patient's tumor cells will react to a given drug. This chip could help in future with the rapid identification of the most effective medication for the individual patient.

Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the Western world. According to the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, approximately 450,000 people develop cancer every year in Germany. Although the doctors who treat cancer have numerous cancer drugs at their disposal today, the treatment must be precisely tailored to the patient and the type of cancer in question to be as effective as possible. If it takes a second or third try to find a drug that works, the patient loses valuable time in which the tumor can continue to grow.

In the future, miniature laboratories could provide the fast help required here. A lab-on-a-chip is a device -- made of glass, for example -- that is just a few millimeters across and has bioelectronic sensors that monitor the vitality of living cells. The chips sit in small wells, known as microtiter plates, and are covered with a patient's tumor cells. A robot changes the culture fluid in each well containing a chip at intervals of just a few minutes. 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 microtiter 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 microtiter plates are kept in a chamber which, through precisely regulated temperature and humidity, provides an environment similar to that of the human body, and which 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 electrical impulses. This sensor system could be used in the treatment of inoperable tumors, for example pancreatic tumors.

In the past, microchips have also been developed at the TUM's Heinz Nixdorf Chair for use in other research fields. For example, one such system is used in the analysis of the water quality of streams and rivers. In this case, a small pump removes samples at regular intervals from the water body and channels it via a pipe to a sensor chip on which algae have been planted. As algae are highly sensitive to toxic substances, they are particularly suitable for water analysis and react to the minutest impurities: their metabolic activity, which is measured on the basis of their oxygen production, declines in less than one minute in the presence of toxins. The data recorded by this sensor system are transmitted via mobile telephone to a computer that raises the alarm. The TUM research team won the E.ON Environmental Award, presented by the Bavarian energy company of the same name, for this system in 2008.

Dr.-Ing. Helmut Grothe
Head of Technology Development
Heinz-Nixdorf Chair for Medical Electronics
Technische Universitaet Muenchen
Tel: +

Markus Bernards | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>