Research project aims to find new ways to identify and treat most aggressive brain cancers

A large European research collaboration is bringing new technology to bear to combat two of the most aggressive brain cancers.

The research project combines the expertise of leading biologists and electronic engineers to develop innovative microtechnology devices that will ultimately be able to identify and treat Glioblastoma multiforme and Medulloblastoma cancer stem cells.

Scientists now believe that stem cells play a role in the recurrence of certain cancers, including these two aggressive forms, as they persist beyond current treatments and can cause tumor re-growth. Conventional treatments target rapidly proliferating differentiated cells rather than quiescent cancer stem cells, which are also difficult to identify based on standard labelling approaches.

One of the first development targets for this project is to create a new fast, transportable and reliable ‘laboratory on a chip’ method of quickly identifying the type of cancer cells involved. This will resolve the current delay in diagnosis. Post-biopsy, brain tumors stem cells can take up to 40 days to identify using traditional laboratory methods.

Identification of the cancer cell type will be done by discriminating the cells according to how they move or react when non-ionizing electromagnetic fields are delivered to them on the surface of the chip. The electronic engineers are able to differentiate between healthy and various types of cancerous cells by the way they react to the electromagnetic waves both in the microwave and in the optical range, and hope to develop this further to obtain an electromagnetic signature for cancer stem cells.

By exploiting the specific ways that cells move and react, demonstrated through their micro laboratory approach, the researchers are additionally aiming at specifically neutralizing cancer stem cells in the chip. This will finally propel the development of novel electrosurgical tools to treat the cancerous stem cells in-situ at the tumor site.

Work is progressing well, and the research partners at Limoges University have recently achieved a milestone, since a microscopic chip was successfully used for radiation-based sorting of Glioblastoma cells depending on their treatment resistance and aggressiveness.

Dr Arnaud Pothier from Limoges said:

We are very happy with the current state of the project. Our collaboration is achieving its most critical and work intensive phase and the preliminary results are very promising. We are hoping for continued success in a challenging field where available diagnostic and therapeutic options are limited.

While the lab on a chip and treatment tool are still some years from becoming a reality, the researchers at Bangor University in Wales, Limoges University in France, IHP Microelectronics in Germany and the Universities of Padua and Rome in Italy, are working with Creo Medical, a company based in south Wales, who have a track record of developing and selling medical devices which can deliver highly targeted microwave energy for localised treatment in cases such as breast and bowel cancers.

Working with microbiologists at Padua and Limoges universities, Dr Cristiano Palego at Bangor University’s School of Electronic Engineering brings his microelectronics expertise to the project.

Commenting on early success of the project, he said that despite very different approaches, from the biologists and engineers, the initial stage project was progressing well.

“Working in a research partnership with the current latitude and depth of expertise is very rewarding and I am looking forward to the next technological and experimental steps,” he said.

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