Florida State biology assistant professor and principal investigator Steven Lenhert said:
"Right now, cancer patients receive chemotherapy treatments that are based on the accumulated knowledge of what has worked best for people with similar cancers. This is the case because hospitals don't have the technology to test thousands of different chemotherapy mixtures on the tumor cells of an individual patient. This technology could give them access to that capability, making the treatments truly personalized and much more effective."
The secret of Lenhert's invention lies in miniaturizing the first process step that pharmaceutical companies use for discovering new drugs. At the moment, these companies use large, specialized laboratories for high throughput screening, a process whereby hundreds of thousands of compounds of different cell cultures are tested at a significant cost in equipment and manpower, despite of the fact that only a tiny fraction of these compounds ever make it to the next phase of testing.
Lenhert's technology prints all of the compounds on a single glass surface before he uses a novel technique that involves liposome microarrays, i.e. collections of drug-infused oil drops, in order to test the compounds on cells, which is basically a miniaturization of the process used by pharmaceutical companies.
If the pharmaceutical industry would fully implement Lenhert's technique, the cost of drug discovery would be a thousand times cheaper and could mean potentially creating personalized cancer treatments, lower-cost medicine and more affordable, higher-quality health care options.
"In looking at the first phase of the drug-discovery process, it struck me how, in this age of extreme miniaturization, we are still using rooms full of robots and equipment to test drug compounds. It reminded me of the early days of computers where you needed huge, room-spanning pieces of hardware to do the most mundane tasks. I said, 'There has to be a better way.'"
Lenhert's nanotechnology has provided evidence for the concept that cells typically grown in university labs can be grown on a small scale. He and his team are currently researching methods to adapt their technology to the scale of high level standard needed to achieve medically recognized benefits.
In terms of personalized medicines it would mean that the "lab on a chip" technology could be applied by doctors using cells from a patient's biopsy to determine which drugs will function on a particular patient. Lenhert hopes his technology can become commercially available after two years of development.
First researcher, Aubrey Kusi-Appiah, a graduate student in Lenhert's research group concluded:
"We have taken an important first step in making liposome microarray technology viable for the pharmaceutical and medical industries. We have established that it can be done."