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FISH and Chip Technology Serves up Cancer Breakthrough

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The diagnosis and treatment of cancer could be dramatically speeded up thanks to a breakthrough in miniaturizing and automating a vital diagnostic test, a report published in the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Research Journal Nanobiotechnology has revealed.

A team from the University of Alberta in Canada has developed a microfludic chip, the size of a microscope slide, which can perform Fluorescent in Situ Hybridization (FISH) on a handheld diagnostic device.

FISH is an important but complex test that detects mutations in chromosomes for a number of different types of cancer. The test involves attaching coloured dyes to chromosomes as a way to visualize and count them as well as to detect cancer-promoting breaks and rejoinings of chromosomes.

The new technology will lead to better cancer treatment and great accessibility to the test. It will also enable FISH to be performed for a fraction of the cost of current analysis methods. The on-chip test can be done within hours compared to conventional methods for FISH which can take several days to perform.

The use of current FISH test has been slowed because of their complexity and cost-per-test. The higher speed and lower cost of FISH on a chip will enable widespread use of the test. It will also significantly increase a doctors ability to tailor treatment strategies to target individual cancers.

The report says: “On-chip FISH technology holds promise for sophisticated and cost-effective screening of cancer patients at every clinic visit.”

The work has been carried out by Dr. Chris Backhouse, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Dr. Linda Pilarski, Professor of Oncology, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta.

The full research paper: FISH and ships: chromosomal analysis on microfluidic platforms, is published in the IET Nanobiotechnology Research Journal.