A researcher developing a miracle microchip that can identify cancer cells and predict how they will act has been awarded a EUR 2 million grant to develop the tech.
The cash injection is to be used to adapt the technology to customise immunotherapies tailored to treat individual patients.
Physicist Dr Larysa Baraban – a researcher at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) research lab in Dresden, Germany – has been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant to continue developing bio-nanosensors for medical diagnostics.
She hopes to harness the chip’s ability to ‘read’ cancer cells in the human body to help predict how a patient will respond to immunotherapy.
Newsflash obtained a statement from the HZDR saying (in English): “Approximately thirty thousand people die every day from cancer worldwide. What is known as ‘immunotherapy’ is increasingly becoming the scientific focus in the fight against the disease.”
Baraban and her team are researching a chip that should “ultimately make it possible to develop customized cancer immunotherapies” thanks to the grant, which spans five years.
The HZDR statement added: “Even though numerous cancer therapies have been developed over the past fifty years, many people still die from this disease.
“Immunooncology, which is aimed at stimulating the immune system so that it can recognize and fight cancer cells, is considered a true revolution in therapy.
“Nevertheless, it is not undertaken without risk, as activating the immune system can lead to severe autoimmune reactions that sometimes result in death.
“Therefore, the most important question clinical practitioners ask is: How can we efficiently predict whether and how a patient will respond to immunotherapy?
“There is currently no predictive technological platform that provides highly-sensitive cancer immunity analysis as well as strategy planning for therapy.”
Baraban sees cancer as an intelligent, self-adapting machine that “plays by its own set of rules—rules that must be deciphered”.
She said: “Cancer generates and quenches the biochemical signals, initiates the iterative loops and builds up feedback controls to create an immunosuppressive environment. My idea is to digitize these mechanisms.”
She is therefore developing an “ImmunoChip” that will be able to study and ‘translate’ the elements of the cancer-immunity cycle.
Baraban is “expanding the portfolio of methods in cancer research” to include nanosensor technology in a bid to digitise tumour properties.
The HZDR said: “This continues Baraban’s prior work on developing bio-nanosensors for medical diagnostics. The sensors are able to convert the charges associated with biomolecules very selectively into current or electrical potential and then transmit them for analysis. Here comes into play the close collaboration with the Institute of Ion Beam Physics and Materials Research at HZDR.
“The information on the immunosuppressive activity of the cancerous microenvironment, the immune checkpoints, T cells and the efficiency of the immunotherapy is collected in corresponding data patterns.
“The ‘ImmunoChip’ platform will help answer the following questions: Can the patient be treated using immunotherapy? How does the tumor protect itself? Which immunotherapy should be used?”
Baraban hopes that answering these questions will then lead to the development of customised immunotherapies, which in turn will improve treatment results, ultimately helping to save more lives