The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that the number of global cancer deaths will rise to 13 million in 2030, as against 7.6 million in 2008. However, odds in the fight against this deadly disease are now tilted in our favor as biochip technology is revolutionizing the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
Biochips can now detect cancer even before the patient shows any symptoms of the disease. Moreover, biochip technology is aiding the development of effective cancer drugs.
Biochip Technology and the Development of Cancer Drugs
It is a fact that only one-third of all cancer patients receive appropriate medicines. The reason for this is that it is very difficult to predict the effectiveness of a cancer drug for an individual patient. Doctors must be extremely careful in choosing the drugs, as any failed attempt translates into critical loss of time for the patient.
Singapore's Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology has developed a miniaturized biochip that can help detect cancerous cells that are resistant to drugs. Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are resistant to chemotherapy and researchers are trying to establish the effectiveness of drugs against such cells. The newly developed Droplet Array helps perform drug screening with limited samples, given that CSCs only comprise 1% of the cancer cells.
Biochip Technology and Cancer Diagnosis
Researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory, US Department of Energy, have also succeeded in developing biochips that help diagnose certain variants of cancer even before patients exhibit any symptoms of the disease. A biochip consists of an array of hundreds of small drops or “dots” that contain an antibody, nucleic acid or protein that attaches itself to a particular DNA sequence or antigen. A cancerous tumor sloughs away proteins from a patient’s circulatory system. Proteins are what activate the immune system, which produces antibodies. Researchers say that the use of a patient’s own auto-antibodies as a diagnostic tool will help doctors come up with treatments suitable to the specific patient’s antibody profile.
There have also been advancements in controlling tumor growth. Scientists at Heinz Nixdorf Chair, Germany, are working on biochip technology that could be implanted near the tumor to release the drugs only when the tumor starts to grow. The timing of the release of cancer drugs will be controlled by electrical impulses. This technology will help patients with cancerous tumors that cannot be operated. Patients with pancreatic tumors stand to benefit from this technology.
There is new hope for cancer diagnosis and the treatment of cancer with the constant innovations that are being carried out in the field of biochip technology.