Gold-coated sensor could track changes in tumor size and reshape cancer drug discovery

Gold-coated sensor could track changes in tumor size and reshape cancer drug discovery

Stanford University engineers have 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 monitor a patient’s cancer progression. In real time.

When scientists identify promising candidates for cancer drugs, early-stage trials often involve 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 or slow the growth of their tumors. 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 are not always accurate. Also, tools like calipers can only take a two-dimensional measurement of a three-dimensional tumor, leading to more inaccuracies.

The 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, publishing the initial test of their new design on Friday in the journal advances in science. A layer of electrically conductive gold covers the sensor: if a tumor expands, the sensor stretches and miniature cracks form in the gold, decreasing the sensor’s conductivity. If a tumor shrinks, these cracks close, restoring conductivity. The complete sensor costs about $60 to build and takes just a few minutes to fit into a mouse. So instead of a researcher taking daily measurements, the device can send continuous signals to a cellphone app.

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

“It’s a seemingly simple design, but these inherent advantages should be very interesting for the pharmaceutical and oncology communities,” Abramson said in a press release. This method, the researchers wrote in the paper, could supplant the techniques currently used to measure tumors in clinical trials, unlocking a wealth of real-time data that could aid basic cancer research.

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