A physics professor from the University of Texas in Dallas reportedly created a microchip that mimics human cells to study the effects of cancer-fighting drugs.
Jason Slinker, who started working on the chip in 2007 as a postdoctoral researcher, in 2010 began collaborating with David Boothman, an oncology professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, according to the The Daily Texan.
“The idea was to design a chip that could mimic how our drug works, and define the damage that’s created, as well as, how it might be overall repaired,” Boothman said.
Slinker applies DNA to the surface of the chip, which provides the information for the device to replicate cell conditions. The researchers used betalapachone to test the device, Boothman’s anticancer drug that targets an enzyme produced in non-small-cell lung, pancreatic, breast, and other cancers.
The chip simulates the nucleus of a cell, where the DNA, membrane, and cytoplasm are located. Gold-plating along the chip conducts electrochemical signals sent from a probe inside the DNA, so the researchers can monitor the damage the drug causes to the DNA.
“Put a strand of DNA across 2 poles, just like a battery – and anytime there’s an alteration in the DNA, it gives off a signal between the 2 poles – when there’s damage created in the DNA, [Slinker] can actually see a signal by a change in the base pairs of the DNA – and then he can see when that DNA starts to be repaired,” Boothman said.
Researchers are studying betalapachone in 2 ongoing clinical trials, with 2 future trials on the way, Boothman said.
“What [Boothman] has done is really focus on cancers that don’t have effective treatments,” Slinker explained. “Anything to reduce mortality and improve the lifespan of patients would be welcomed.”
They hope the device could have applications beyond studying the effects of cancer drugs, such as detecting DNA damage due to environmental factors like radiation.