Testing cancer with FISH on a chip

In this case, FISH is an acronym for 'fluorescent in situ hybridization. This is a complex, costly and time-consuming test that detects mutations in chromosomes for a number of different types of cancer. But now, researchers from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, have found a way to build a FISH on a chip that offers quicker and cheaper cancer diagnosis. This new lab-on-a-chip technology will allow FISH to be rapidly performed for as little as $100 for 10 tests and in less than a day. This FISH and chip technology could soon be widely adopted.

In this case, FISH is an acronym for 'fluorescent in situ hybridization.' This is a complex, costly and time-consuming test that detects mutations in chromosomes for a number of different types of cancer. But now, researchers from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, have found a way to build a FISH on a chip that offers quicker and cheaper cancer diagnosis. This new lab-on-a-chip technology will allow FISH to be rapidly performed for as little as $100 for 10 tests and in less than a day. This FISH and chip technology could soon be widely adopted.

Testing cancer with FISH on chip

Here are what you can expect from this technology. You can see on top an image of "ex-vivo cells from a patient in a microchannel after completing on-chip FISH with a hybridisation time of 14 hours. With this single colour probe, a normal cell will have two red dots and a malignant cell will have only one red dot. The image has one malignant cell surrounded by several normal cells (one of the cells has four dots, possibly indicating that cell division was about to occur)." The bottom picture was taken with a commercial image acquisition system (Credit: University of Alberta).

This new microfluidic chip was developed by a team led by cancer scientist Dr. Linda Pilarski and Chris Backhouse, professor of electrical engineering. "This new system will allow FISH to be rapidly performed for a fraction of the cost of current analysis methods. Compared to conventional methods for FISH, which can take days to perform, the on-chip FISH test can be done in less than a day with a ten-fold higher rate of processing and a reduction in costs from hundreds to tens of dollars."

An article published by the University of Alberta ExpressNews site, "Fish on a chip will feed a need for cancer clinicians," provides some additional details.

"At the moment, most of the time this is a test that isn't done in the course of cancer treatment because of its extreme cost and because of the amount of time it takes. It's only being done as part of research and clinical trials," said Pilarski. "Because of this fish-on-a-chip technology, they'd be able to do it for every patient at diagnosis. You could also do it throughout the course of treatment at frequent intervals to see if aggressive cancer variants are emerging or to detect early relapse."

The 'FISH on a chip' technology offers another advantage. "The new technology also means that the FISH test can be made available to patients in rural and remote areas, without any need to travel to major centres," Pilarski added.

This research work has being published in the Institution of Engineering and Technology's Nanobiotechnology journal under the name "FISH and chips: chromosomal analysis on microfluidic platforms" (June 2007, Volume 1, Issue 3, Pages 27-35). Here are two links to the abstract and to the full paper (PDF format, 9 pages, 404 KB). The above illustrations have been extracted from this paper.

Sources: University of Alberta news release, June 18, 2007; Ileiren Byles, University of Alberta ExpressNews, June 18, 2007; and various websites

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