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Optimizing Cancer Treatment

October 23, 2009 By: Melanie Martella, Sensors

E-mail Melanie Martella

One of the things that's become clearer, as we achieve a greater understanding of how our bodies actually work, is how genetics can affect the efficacy of drugs. Now, a new sensor biochip could allow doctors to test whether a given cancer drug will work on a patient's specific cancer.

Pharmacogenomics is the study of how our genetics affects how we respond to drugs. Because genetics can determine such things as whether certain painkillers will work for you or whether the normal dose of a drug would (for you) be entirely too high or too low.

When it comes to cancer treatment, the ability to test whether a given cancer drug would actually work with a patient's cancer would be a huge benefit. Time is of the essence when it comes to cancer treatment. And that's where the folks at the Heinz Nixdorf Chair for Medical Electronics at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) come in.

Their device uses a bioelectronic sensor in each well of a microtiter plate, topped with cells from the patient's tumor. Within a tightly controlled environment (to mimic the conditions in a human body) culture medium is added and changed frequently by a robot. The sensors, meanwhile, take readings of cell oxygen consumption, pH changes in the culture medium, and other things that signify how well the tumor cells are faring. A microscope beneath the plate takes pictures of the process and all these data are passed to a computer to synthesize a picture of the metabolism of the tumor cells.

So, now that the wells contain happy, growing cancer cells, the researchers program the robot to place a drop of an anti-cancer drug (or combination thereof) into each well. Because they already have a picture of the normal metabolism of the cancer cells they can now see whether the drug or drug cocktail is having any effect against the cancer. This approach enables the researchers to test 24 active substances at a time and see the direct effect of the substances on the patient's cancer cells.

In the article, "Sensor Biochips Could Aid In Cancer Diagnosis And Treatment", from Science Daily, researcher Dr. Helmut Grothe points out another problem that occurs with cancer treatments; "Treatment with an ineffective cancer drug sometimes leads to the development of resistance to other drugs in the patient." (The group is also developing a version of the chip for treating tumors in vivo and has already adapted the technology to monitor water quality.)

About the Author: Melanie Martella

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