Brain Cancer stem cells manipulated on a ‘lab on chip’ for first time

Cancer differentiated cells (ordinary  cancer cells)  are seen in the centre of the lab on  a chip device, which is attracting cancer stem cells towards the electrode, performing real time sorting. Ordinary cancer cells are seen in the centre of the lab on a chip device, which is attracting cancer stem cells towards the electrode, performing real time sorting. As the first stage has been achieved in a new European research collaboration to combat two of the most aggressive brain cancers (www.sumcastec.eu), academic and industry  participants are meeting at Bangor University this week (11-12 July) to discuss the next steps.

Bangor University and the industry partner Creo Medical are additionally co-hosting a technical workshop entitled "EM field interaction with biological tissues for cancer and regenerative medicine” (13th July, Pontio, room PL5, 8:30-17:30) which is open to the public and will showcase the project’s latest achievements along with exciting research from synergistic and related initiatives. 

The SUMCASTEC projects 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. This is one approach being developed to find a cure for one of the most aggressive form of cancer, which came to public attention recently with the death of prominent politician, Dame Tessa Jowell.

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.

The researchers from Limoges University have now demonstrated that they are able to identify, isolate and manipulate cancerous stem cells on a Lab on a Chip.

The cells are identified according to how they move or react when non-ionizing electromagnetic fields are delivered to them on the surface of the chip. Microsystems and radiofrequency 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.

Identifying the stem cells is important as biologists now believe that they play a role in the recurrence of certain cancers, including these two aggressive forms, as they persist beyond current treatments and can cause tumour re-growth. Conventional treatments target rapidly proliferating differentiated cells rather than quiescent cancer stem cells, which are also difficult to identify using standard methods. Currently, post-biopsy, brain tumours stem cells can take up to 40 days to identify using traditional laboratory methods

By exploiting the specific ways that cells move and react, demonstrated through their micro-laboratory on a chip 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 tumour site.

Dr Arnaud Pothier from Limoges University said:

“For the first time a lab-on-chip device is able to discriminate and sort brain cancer stem cells from  differentiated cells  within minutes. We have achieved a first essential step to stem cell isolation and selective treatment.”

Treatment tools embedding SUMCASTEC’s lab-on-chip technology are still some years from becoming a reality.

Working with microbiologists at Padova 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.

“We are very excited not only for the diagnostic potential in our approach, but also because this is happening through the convergence and integration of once distant technologies such as microfluidics and microelectronics. We think that microelectronics has the potential to drive novel and disruptive healthcare approaches through the same quantum leap that transformed personal communication electronics.” he said.

The researchers at Bangor University in Wales, Limoges University in France, IHP in Germany, the University of Padova and the ENEA research centre in Rome-Italy, are working with Creo Medical. Creo Medical, a company based in south Wales, 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.

The innovative research project, which is to run for 42 months, is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 framework Programme.

Publication date: 11 July 2018