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Cancer Monitor Chip Implant in Development

Cancer monitoring chip (Sven Becker/TUM)

Cancer monitoring chip (Sven Becker/TUM)

Biomedical engineers at Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) in Germany are developing an electronic sensor chip capable of monitoring tumors that are difficult to remove with surgery or growing slowly. The chip operates by determining the oxygen content in a patient’s tissue fluid.

A team headed by Bernhard Wolf, professor of medical electronics  at TUM, have built a prototype sensor chip that can be implanted close to a tumor. The sensor chip measures the concentration of dissolved oxygen in the tissue and wirelessly transmits this information to a receiver carried by the patient.

The receiver then forwards the data to the patient’s doctor, who can monitor the tumor’s development and arrange for a suitable response, such as surgery or chemotherapy. The tumor is thus continually monitored and the patient does not have to visit the doctor or hospital as frequently for check-ups.

The main challenge for researchers was building the sensor to function autonomously for long periods of time. The sensor must continue to function and deliver correct values even in the presence of obstacles, such as protein contamination or cell debris. The chip also must be accepted by the body so that it is not identified or rejected as a foreign object.

Not even twice the size of a thumbnail, the sensor chip and electronics have a compact footprint. “We enclosed the sensor chip, analysis electronics, transmitter and batteries in a biocompatible plastic housing,” says engineer and project manager Sven Becker.

The sensor chip has already met laboratory tests with cell and tissue cultures, but it needs further development and testing in animals before it is ready for human trials.  The package must be made even smaller before it can be implanted in cancer patients using minimally invasive surgery. Also, the designers want to add sensors for measuring acidity and temperature, as well as a miniature medication pump to be implanted with the sensor chip.

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