Electronic chip simulates cancer, tests treatments

Scientists at Purdue University in the United States have developed an electronic chip capable of mimicking the biological signature of a cancerous tumour – an invention which could have multiple potential uses within cancer research.

The research team at the university developed a ‘tumour-microenvironment-on-chip’ system, which means scientists and cancer experts can independently study the biological complexities surrounding tumours, their environment and the barriers which have until now prevented targeted treatments.
The chip itself only measures around 4.5 square centimetres and contains channels where cells, both tumorous and healthy can be created. This should allow researchers to test treatments and investigate different ways of attacking specific cancer cells.The scientists at Purdue are trying to perfect delivery methods for treatment agents to selectively attack the tumour tissue using nanoparticle technology.

Experts are working on ways in which treatment agents such as immunotherapy drugs can be carried to the targeted source of the cancer cells, without damaging the healthy tissue around them. This is difficult as the pores in healthy tissue blood vessels are well organised and have small pores in the junctions between them but tumorous tissue cells are irregular and misshapen with larger pores in the gaps between cells, so any nanoparticles being created must be small enough to pass through the smaller pores within the healthy cells, but big enough to pass through the larger pores throughout the cancerous tissue.

This chip gives researchers an alternative to the modern day conventional experimental methods, such as studies of cancer cells in petri dishes and within animal studies which don’t always translate over to human cells.

Scientists tested the new technology on human breast cancer and on cells from the lining of blood vessels, allowing them to get a better understanding of how nanoparticles move within the microenvironment. Future studies will expand to the study of using anti-cancer drugs. Experts expect the devices to be used in the future to grow cancer cells from existing cancer patients to measure the effectiveness of specific drugs in those people.


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