Can a gold-plated micro-chip detect the growth of cancer?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A multi-disciplinary team of researchers led by scientists in London and Toronto is developing a simple tool that could one day make it easier to choose the best available cancer treatments for individual patients and improve their chances for survival.

Dr. David Litchfield, Professor, Department of Biochemistry, Western University, and a team that includes leaders in biological and physical sciences, as well as clinicians in the Division of Hematology at London Health Sciences Centre (Drs. Xenocostas, Hsia and Chin Yee), are developing a specialized tool — a small gold-plated chip layered with sensors — that will be able to detect the activity of cell molecules called protein kinases that are often involved in cancer growth.

With a new $200,000 Innovation Grant, Dr. Litchfield and his team are aiming to further develop this highly innovative technology so that numerous protein kinases can be monitored at the same time. The team, co-led by University of Toronto (Scarborough) chemistry professor Dr. Bernie Kraatz, will also test the tool in cell lines and blood samples from leukemia patients. This information will help the team determine which protein kinases are involved in a patient’s cancer growth.

If successful, doctors will be able to use the tool to learn more about a patient’s tumour, so they can select the best available treatment for the patient based on the tumour’s characteristics.

“I applaud the Canadian Cancer Society for funding innovation that supports creativity and enables us to bring together talents from diverse disciplines to take a highly collaborative approach to solving the puzzle of cancer growth,” says Dr. Litchfield.

The Society has long supported Dr. Litchfield’s work. Including the new grant, he has received $2.4 million in funding from the Society since 1994 to support research and the training of many research personnel.

“We are proud to support innovative research that stimulates new approaches to cancer research, such as this project that could help doctors provide the best available treatments to patients,” says Luba Slatkovska, Senior Manager, Research, Ontario Division. “We couldn’t make this impact without the support of our donors and supporters.”

The Society’s Innovation Grants were developed to support innovative and creative problem-solving in cancer research. The goal is to support unconventional concepts, approaches or methodologies to address problems in cancer research.

A total of 37 grants representing a $7.2 million investment across the country were announced this week, with 20 in Ontario alone. The Canadian Cancer Society is the largest national charitable funder of cancer research in Canada.