Fish and chips, but not as we know it

Canadian biomedical technologists have made a breakthrough that will lead to faster and cheaper diagnostic tests for cancer.

University of Alberta graduate student Vince Sieben and his fellow researchers have miniaturised and automated an established diagnostic protocol onto a microfluidic chip, and in the process reduced the costs involved to less than one tenth of the original. The new test can also produce results in less than a day.

Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridisation (FISH) on a microfluidic chip

FISH (Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridisation) is a complex procedure that can detect mutations in chromosomes for a number of different cancer types. It provides resolution at the single cell level, and can be applied directly to tumour samples without the need for special chromosome preparations. Problems with FISH include extremely high costs, and the length of time it can take to produce results.

“A FISH assay for multiple myeloma may use 10 probes to test for a combination of chromosomal abnormalities,” says Sieben. “Each probe will cost €40–150 per test. To test one patient with multiple FISH probe sets will cost €350–1500. The chip we have created cuts this cost down by a factor of 10, and we expect to drive the cost down even further.”

Sieben’s colleague Carina Debes Marun goes further, and in her detailed costing includes the savings in reduced technician time with the FISH-on-a-chip technique. Yet another advantage is that the technology can be made available to patients in remote areas, with no need for them to travel to specialist centres.

Group leader Linda Pilarski has said that the development of FISH-on-a-chip is probably the most important thing that any of the researchers will achieve in their professional lives. Sieben notes that the project is far-reaching in terms of applicability, and is likely to have a positive impact on a huge number of cancer patients.

The University of Alberta has established a company – i-LOC – to license the FISH patent.

Figure: Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridisation (FISH) on a microfluidic chip (© David Alton/i-LOC Corp.).

Further reading: FISH and chips: chromosomal analysis on microfluidic platforms, Sieben et al., IET Nanobiotechnology 1, 27 (2007).

Article first published in Nanomaterials News.