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2024-03-20| Technology

Taiwanese University Unveils Breakthrough Cancer Detection Technology

by Bernice Lottering
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Source: NTUST Press Release

In breakthrough technological advancements, the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology (NTUST) has pioneered a laser capable of detecting cancer cells within an hour. Professor Chen Jem-Kun (陳建光) from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering spearheaded the project. According to Professor Chen, this innovative laser surpasses previous technologies in speed, enabling early detection of micro-metastasis and facilitating prompt treatment.

CTC Monitoring Hurdles in Cancer Prognosis

Cancer research stands as one of the most prominent fields of study in Taiwan, and understandably so, with cancer maintaining its position as the leading cause of death for 41 consecutive years according to NTUST’s press release. The release highlights the significance of monitoring circulating tumor cells (CTCs) released by tumors, as they play a pivotal role in spreading cancer throughout the body. Essentially, their presence in the bloodstream indicates a heightened cancer risk and correlates with tumor activity, metastasis probability, and cancer progression. Monitoring CTC count is crucial for assessing treatment efficacy, guiding surgical interventions, and adjusting treatment plans.

However, Professor Chen pointed out that the current counting of CTCs primarily relies on magnetic bead capture and fluorescent staining methods. He highlighted that these processes require skilled technicians for operation and interpretation, leading to a two-week wait for test results. Additionally, Chen mentioned that hospitals typically consider these tests as self-paid items, with each test costing approximately NT$15,000 (US$472) to NT$20,000 (US$633).

An Innovative, Affordable, and Rapid Design to Combat Cancer 

In contrast, Chen’s innovative laser employs optical grating diffraction chips to rapidly scan for CTCs, significantly cutting down on dye and labor costs, as well as reducing manual interpretation errors. The unique fully-automatic laser diffraction system can provide CTC counts in the blood within approximately one hour, facilitating early detection and enabling timely intervention for patients in the early stages of cancer. This early treatment intervention enhances treatment flexibility for patients with advanced cancer.

Furthermore, Professor Chen explained that traditional fluorescent staining methods typically lead to the death of CTC cells post-testing. However, with this new laser, the cells can remain active and be cultured for further cancer drug testing. Compared to traditional detection methods, the fully automatic laser diffraction system offers added versatility by enabling the use of samples such as urine, saliva, and rinse fluid for detection. This expands the range of sample types and enhances flexibility in the detection process.

The Future of Cancer Detection

Since 2016, Professor Chen’s research team has been developing the fully automatic laser diffraction system. Currently, the team collaborates with several hospitals, including Taichung Veterans General Hospital, Taipei Medical University Hospital, National Defense Medical College, and Chi Mei Hospital, focusing on esophageal and endometrial cancers. The goal is to extend CTC counting testing to public health examination projects in the future to aid in tracking cancer metastasis or recurrence and assessing prognosis.

Professor Chen emphasized that current tumor observation heavily relies on computerized tomography, which often takes over a month to detect changes in tumor size. Additionally, it cannot effectively determine tumor presence post-surgery, leading to high recurrence rates and mortality among terminal cancer patients. The system offers additional detection options, reducing reliance on costly computed tomography and enabling real-time cancer status understanding, facilitating early preventive treatment, and optimal timing for cancer treatment, ultimately improving survival rates. The laser is undergoing medical device certification, with plans for public availability within three to four years.

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