IBM scientists have begun collaborating with pathologists at the University Hospital Zürich to test a new prototype tool to accurately diagnose different types of cancer.
The work is based on a microfluidic probe, new technology developed by IBM scientists, which slightly resembles the nib of a fountain pen. The microfluidic probe can interact with tissue sections at the micrometer scale to help unravel some of the molecular variations within tumours.
The compact and easy-to-use tool may help unravel tumour heterogeneity and assist in personalised treatment strategies.
The analysis of a patient's biopsy tissue sample, which sometimes can be as small as a pinhead, is a critical step in the diagnosis of cancer. However, even with the smallest tissue sample, pathologists can test for the absence or presence of tumour cells and provide important information to doctors regarding the course of treatment.
During analysis of the tissue samples, pathologists typically stain the sample with liquid reagents. The intensity and distribution of the colour stain can classify and determine the extent of the disease. Although this analysis provides insights into the tumour, it is increasingly being realised that significant variations exist within the tumour itself and mapping these variations may help understand the drivers for each tumour. This then creates personalised treatment strategies.
The collaboration between IBM and the University Hospital Zürich puts a strong emphasis on uncovering the heterogeneity of tumours. The collaboration focuses on lung cancer, which is one of the most prevalent forms of cancer and has a high mortality rate.
Dr Govind Kaigala, a scientist at IBM Research - Zurich commented on the new technology: "For about a year we have been testing the probe in our lab, and initial results are very encouraging - we are now developing the technology in the context of important aspects in pathology. Over the next several months, we will install a prototype device at the hospital and work alongside pathologists."