Cool Technology for Pharmacy

Researchers from the Technische Universität München (TUM) have developed a small microchip that can automate the process of testing the activity of cancer drugs against a patient’s tumor cells.

The chip is just a few millimeters in size, but packed with sensors. Here, a ceramic version of the chip is shown.

The microsensors on the chip record, among other things, changes in the acid content of the medium and the cells’ oxygen consumption; photographs of the process are also taken by a microscope fitted underneath the microtitre plate. All of the data merge in a computer that is connected to the system, and which provides an overview of the metabolic activity of the tumor cells and their vitality.

The robots and microtitre plates are kept in a climatic chamber, which, through precisely regulated temperature and humidity, provides an environment similar to that of the human body, and also protects the tumor cells against external influences that can falsify the test results.

After the tumor cells have been able to divide undisturbed for a few hours, the robot applies an anti-cancer substance. If their metabolic activity declines over the next day or two, the active substance was able to kill the tumor cells and the drug is effective. Using the microchips, twenty-four active substances or combinations of active substances can be tested simultaneously in this way.

The reason that such technology is so important is obvious; treatment with chemotherapy is dangerous and unpleasant for patients. The ability to automate the identification of an ideal chemotherapy regimen not only decreases the patient’s exposure to unnecessary chemotherapy, but speeds up the entire process as well.

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