“Dialysis for cancer” system to be rolled out in Australia
The University Of New South Wales has created a system that quickly lowers the cost of cancer treatment. The biochip filters the blood to identify and then remove cancer cells, in a system the team calls “dialysis for cancer”.At the beginning, the University of New South Wales team was looking for a cheaper and less painful way to diagnose cancer. Currently, the way a tumour is identified in a body is with a scan and then a biopsy.However, solid cancers, which make up about 99 per cent of human cancers, also shed what are called circulating tumour cells into the bloodstream, which is how the cancer metastasizes, or spreads through the body.The biochip was created by Dr Majid Warkiani and his team at NSW University and is able to separate the cancerous cells, which are larger and more flexible than healthy cells, and identify them.”We are simply getting the blood from the patient, it’s a mixture of normal blood cells and cancer cells,” Dr Warkiani was quoted as saying in Singapore.”We put it inside one of our biochips and the cells go under migration, and they get affected by hydrodynamic forces.”Under those forces that we are applying to the cells inside the chip, the bigger cells go up to the cancer cell outlet, and the smaller cells get pushed down and essentially they get fractionated, they get separated.”The chip can be used to diagnose the cancer, and also to dramatically reduce the costs associated with treatment.
Patients usually need regular scans to check to see that their tumours are shrinking, which cost around $700 per scan.But the biochip can be used instead to monitor the level of cancer cells in the blood, and Dr Warkiani estimates these tests will cost between $50-$100.But the biggest revelation came when Dr Warkiani and his team were explaining the technology to hospital staff in Singapore. One of the doctors suggested that the biochip could be used for more than just diagnosis. “There was a doctor, he said ‘can you process very large blood volumes?’. I said ‘why?’ Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.”He said ‘I’m a spinal surgeon, we have huge leftover of the blood in operation theatre, like one litres to two litres, and we cannot use it to infuse back into the body because it’s full of cancer cells.” During surgery, patients usually require a blood transfusion to prevent roaming tumour cells from travelling further throughout the body. Transfusions often come with immune problems and other complications.The doctor from Singapore suggested that if the chip could be upscaled, the patient’s own blood could be washed of cancer cells, and returned to the body, similar to the process for kidney dialysis.For patients in the early stages of the disease, the process could be used to reduce the chances of the cancer metastasizing, or of relapse, by cleansing the blood of circulating tumour cells.Dr Warkiani estimates that with proper funding and support, the technology could be rolled out to Australian hospitals within two or three years. So far the team has missed out on six government funding proposals in less than two years.Dr Warkiani said that he thought governments needed to trust young people who were thinking out of the box. “Billions of the dollars have been invested in cancer, but we have seen really incremental improvements in patient outcomes,” he said.Dr Warkiani is hopeful that recently earmarked innovation funding can change that. “We should find a new way, and I believe that this is a new way to do cancer management.”