A biosensor developed by European researchers will help to identify and put to use cells in the immune system that actively suppress tumour growth.
The researchers involved with the Cochise project (cell-on-chip biosensor) have developed a biosensor that uses a combination of microfluidics and electronics to first isolate immune-system and cancer cells in a microwell, and then identify the active cells that suppress tumour growth.
The cells are identified by forcing them together through dielectrophoresis; a phenomenon where a force is exerted on dielectric particle when it is in the presence of a non-uniform electric field.
When these cells are pushed together, a doctor can observe the interactions between them.
If, for example, a doctor observes an immune system cell killing a target tumour cell, he or she will retrieve the immune-system cell from the platform and transfer it to a standard plate to culture it.
After the immune-system cells are grown into greater concentration, a doctor could then theoretically re-inject them into the patient’s body.
A start-up company, Mindseeds Laboratories, was founded in Italy with the aim of commercialising the work.
While the prototype biosensor is able to deliver live, active cells from the biosensor for amplification, project researcher Massimo Bocchi, chief technology officer at MindSeeds Laboratories, said the process is still too slow.
The cells must be tested one at a time for useful interactions, he said, and the researchers involved in the Cochise project expect that there will be very few cells that interact helpfully in any sample.
Bocchi said medical labs need to be able to test thousands of cells at a time. Further development is necessary to reach that sort of processing capacity in parallel, he said.
Bocchi suggested it could be three to five years before this biosensor reaches medical labs.
The Cochise project received funding from the ICT strand of the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme for research.