Portable device uses AI to keep track of chemotherapy

A portable device that determines whether targeted chemotherapy is working on individual cancer patients has been developed by researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

This image shows six devices with biosensors to detect whether a cancer cell is alive when it passes through a tiny hole for fluids. The devices fit on a 3” wide piece of glass (Photo: Zhongtian Lin)

Using artificial intelligence and biosensors the device is up to 95.9 per cent accurate in counting live cancer cells when they pass through electrodes, according to a study in Microsystems & Nanoengineering.

"We built a portable platform that can predict whether patients will respond positively to targeted cancer therapy," said senior author Mehdi Javanmard, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the School of Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. "Our technology combines artificial intelligence and sophisticated biosensors that handle tiny amounts of fluids to see if cancer cells are sensitive or resistant to chemotherapy drugs."

According to Rutgers, the device provides immediate results and will allow for more personalised interventions for patients as well as better management and detection of the disease. It can rapidly analyse cells without having to stain them, allowing for further molecular analysis and instantaneous results. Current devices rely on staining, limiting the characterisation of cells.

"We envision using this new device as a point-of-care diagnostic tool for assessing patient response and personalisation of therapeutics," the study says.

Treatment of cancer patients often requires drugs that can kill tumour cells, but chemotherapy destroys tumour cells and healthy cells, causing unpleasant side effects.

Co-author Joseph R. Bertino, a resident researcher at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and his team previously developed a therapeutic approach that targets cancer cells, such as those in B-cell lymphoma, multiple myeloma and epithelial carcinomas. It binds a chemotherapy drug to an antibody so only tumour cells are targeted and minimises interaction with healthy cells. Patients will respond positively to this therapy if their tumour cells generate a protein called matriptase. Many patients will benefit while the side effects from standard chemotherapy are minimised.

"Novel technologies like this can really have a positive impact on the standard-of-care and result in cost-savings for both healthcare providers and patients," Bertino said in a statement.

The Rutgers team tested their new device using cancer cell samples treated with different concentrations of a targeted anti­cancer drug. The device is said to detect whether a cell is alive based on the shift in its electrical properties as it passes through a tiny fluidic hole. The next step is to perform tests on tumour samples from patients. The researchers hope the device will eventually be used to test cancer therapies on samples of patient tumours before treatment is administered.