Gold-plated sensor could reshape cancer drug discovery

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Stanford University engineers designed a sensor that can wrap around a tumor and measure its growth or shrinkage in real time — a step forward that will help researchers evaluate cancer drugs and one day even measure a patient’s cancer progression in real time. to follow.

When scientists identify promising cancer drug candidates, early-stage testing often involves treating immunodeficient mice that develop large tumors. These mice are given the drug and observed over time to measure the drug’s ability to reduce the size of their tumors or slow their growth. But according to Alex Abramson, a chemical and biomolecular engineer at Georgia Tech who conducted the recent research at Stanford, these measurements are often done by hand and aren’t always accurate. In addition, tools such as calipers can only perform a two-dimensional measurement of a three-dimensional tumor, leading to further inaccuracies.

FAST system measures tumor size regression.

Alex Abramson, Bao Group, Stanford University

Abramson and his colleagues designed a battery-powered device with a flexible sensor that hugs the skin of a mouse to measure the circumference of a tumor, and published the first tests of their new design in the journal Friday. scientific progress. A layer of electrically conductive gold covers the sensor: when a tumor expands, the sensor stretches and miniature cracks form in the gold, decreasing the sensor’s conductivity. When a tumor shrinks, these cracks close again, restoring conduction. The full sensor costs about $60 to build and takes just minutes to attach to a mouse. Instead of a researcher taking daily measurements, the device can then send continuous signals to a mobile phone app.

When they compared their device to calipers and another method of mapping tumor growth and shrinkage, the researchers found that the sensor’s continuous monitoring detected a reduction in tumor volume due to a cancer drug before any of the other methods.

“It’s a deceptively simple design, but these inherent benefits should be of great interest to the pharmaceutical and oncology communities,” Abramson said in a press release. This method, the researchers wrote in the paper, could replace techniques currently used to measure tumors in clinical trials, unlocking a wealth of real-time data that could support basic cancer research.

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