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

Stanford University engineers have developed 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 the progression of a patient’s cancer in real time to monitor.

When scientists identify promising cancer drug candidates, early-stage testing often involves treating immunocompromised mice that develop large tumors. These mice are given the drug and are followed 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 made by hand and aren’t always accurate. In addition, tools such as calipers can only take a two-dimensional measurement of a three-dimensional tumor, leading to further 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 a mouse’s skin to measure the size of a tumor, and published the first tests of their new design in the journal on Friday scientific advances. The sensor is coated with a layer of electrically conductive gold: when a tumor expands, the sensor expands and tiny cracks form in the gold, reducing the sensor’s conductivity. When a tumor shrinks, these fissures close and restore conductivity. The full sensor costs about $60 to build and attaches to a mouse in minutes. Instead of a researcher taking measurements daily, the device can then send continuous signals to a cell phone app.

When they compared their device to calipers and another method of recording 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 deceptively simple design, but these inherent benefits should be of great interest to the pharmaceutical and oncology community,” Abramson said in a press release. This method, the researchers write in the paper, could replace the techniques currently used to measure tumors in clinical trials and unlock a wealth of real-time data that could aid basic cancer research. Gold-coated sensor could track changes in tumor size and transform cancer drug discovery

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