Developed by researchers at the Heinz Nixdorf Chair for Medical Electronics at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM), the microchips could help in future with the rapid identification of the most effective medication for the individual patient.
Despite having numerous cancer drugs at their disposal today, doctors face difficulty in finding a treatment precisely tailored to the patient and the type of cancer in question.
If it takes a second or third try to find a drug that works, the patient loses valuable time in which the tumour can continue to grow.
However, this problem can be taken care of via the new lab-on-a-chip technology.
The chips sit in small wells, known as microtiter plates, and are covered with a patient's tumor cells.
A robot changes the culture fluid in each well containing a chip at intervals of just a few minutes.
The microsensors on the chip record, among other things, changes in the acid content of the medium and the cells' oxygen consumption; photographs of the process are also taken by a microscope fitted underneath the microtiter plate.
All of the data merge in a computer that is connected to the system, and which provides an overview of the metabolic activity of the tumor cells and their vitality.
The robots and microtiter plates are kept in a chamber which, through precisely regulated temperature and humidity, provides an environment similar to that of the human body, and which also protects the tumour cells against external influences that can falsify the test results.
After the tumor cells have been able to divide undisturbed for a few hours, the robot applies an anti-cancer substance.
If their metabolic activity declines over the next day or two, the active substance was able to kill the tumour cells and the drug is effective.
Using the microchips, twenty-four active substances or combinations of active substances can be tested simultaneously in this way.