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“Silicon micro device may help diagnose, treat cancer” (Annual Report 2008)
Agah's team is also applying MEMS technology to micro gas chromatography. Read about it in “Concentrating gases at the micro scale.”
The MEMS Laboratory is involved in projects including 3D independent microchannel fabrication, preconcentrator, BioMEMS, gas chromatography, and on-chip microprocessor cooling.
Catching cancer cells–on a chip
For many forms of cancer, including breast cancer, the cancer cells have spread throughout the body before a primary tumor can be detected. Detecting it early, therefore, is vital for high survival rates.
Masoud Agah is leading a project to make this possible with an NSF interdisciplinary research (IDR) grant — the first at Virginia Tech. The grant is for groups requiring specialized knowledge in multiple areas, and the NSF hopes that the IDR grants will pave the way to new fields of research.
Using breast cancer as their model, Virginia Tech’s group is developing a microchip that detects the presence of even a single cancer or pre-cancerous cell among a population of primarily healthy cells. Agah explains that the chip will “exploit changes in the biomechanics and bioelectrical properties that occur in cells as a result of progression to a cancer state….[it] combines the information from two different domains (mechanical and electrical) to diagnose a cancer or pre-cancerous state.”
The chip works by allowing cells to adhere to the surfaces of the chip. Healthy cells will adhere mostly to the flat surfaces, and cancer cells will adhere to the microengineered portions. Because it operates under static conditions, the chip does not require extra devices such as pumps or valves.