Spotting Cancer Stem Cells
“Too many researchers are only looking for a single surface protein and a single receptor, and right now the science isn’t mature enough,” Allen said. “So you need multiple surface antigens to say, ‘Yes, I have a cancer stem cell.’”
Also importantly, the device’s tiny channels are wide enough to pass clusters of these circulating cancer stem cells. Research has indicated that clusters of these cells are associated with increased risk of metastases in breast cancer.
“So a key element of that chip design is to maintain that cluster, and we can do that with this gel technology,” Allen said.
Nicholas Cosford and Peter Teriete at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla said Allen’s idea is worth trying.
“The results he’s shown look very promising,” said Cosford, a professor in the institute’s cancer center. “It’s a novel approach that has quite a lot of potential. I think under the right circumstances, it could really move things along in the field.”
Teriete said Allen has discovered a way to combine established technologies.
“Jeff Allen’s approach is not to reinvent the wheel,” Teriete said. “He’s using really well-established technologies in a novel way and adding his personal twist to it. I feel the likelihood of success is actually quite high.”
Allen’s work is not near the commercialization stage.
“He has been scouring a lot of the existing literature and talking to experts in the field to solidify the underpinnings of his approach,” Teriete said. “He has designed a chip that should enable him to conduct feasibility studies to show proof of concept — that it would work.”
The next step is to find a microchip foundry to make the chip, Teriete said.
Cell-based experiments would come next, followed by tests conducted on patients’ blood and tissue samples. The testing stage could take three to six months.
Engineering and optimization would be the subsequent processes — to ensure the device functions the way it’s intended. No matter how well something is designed on a computer, real-world experience is always needed, Teriete said.
Allen said once he gets a good prototype, he will take it to a comprehensive cancer center to see if a partnership is possible. These centers are willing to work with products just coming out of research and see whether those devices can improve treatment for patients.
At the moment, money remains a bottleneck. Of the $50,000 hoped for, less than $6,700 has been raised.
“Right now I’m working out of my home,” Allen said. He plans to collaborate with a professor at San Diego State University who has available lab space and students.
“It would be a perfect fit,” Allen said.
The crowdfunding site is located at: http://www.gofundme.com/7mznuo.