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€2M grant for lens-free metastatic cancer cell imager

21 Jan 2014

IMEC-led work is among more than a dozen optics-related projects to receive European Research Council backing.

A new lens-free imaging system for detecting the spread of dangerous “metastatic” cancer cells is among several optics and photonics projects to receive new funding via the European Research Council (ERC).

Backed through the ERC’s “consolidator grant” program for leading researchers at the mid-career point, the Single Cell AnaLysis and Sorting Platform based on Lensfree digital imaging applied to Rapid Cancer Detection (SCALPEL) project is led by Liesbet Lagae from the Belgium microelectronics research center IMEC.

It is set to receive €2 million over a five-year duration. The team led by Lagae, who is R&D Manager for life science technologies at IMEC and also a professor in at nearby KU Leuven, will develop a device designed to help pathologists, surgeons and nurses to improve individualized follow-up and survival rate of cancer patients.

Single-cell analyzer
They are working on a single-cell analyzer based on lens-free digital imaging. It will be used to observe the physical morphology of single cells flowing through a microfluidic network, with gentle cell-sorting switches to route the cells towards different outlets.

According to IMEC, it would therefore combine the virtues of so-called “high content” microscopic imaging with those of automated high-throughput technologies - at a fraction of the normal cost.

“Because all optomechanical components, such as lenses, detectors, and nozzles, are replaced by nanoelectronics and advanced signal processing technology, the devices will be cheap and compact,” IMEC said.

Targeting metastasis
In particular, it will be used to look for metastatic cancer cells – ones that travel through a patient’s blood stream from the site of a primary tumor, spreading the disease and having a huge impact on a patient’s chances of survival.

IMEC says that while billions of dollars have been spent trying to cure primary tumors, very little in comparison has been done to detect or kill the circulating tumor cells that cause metastasis.

Ultimately, metastasis is responsible for more than 90 per cent of cancer-related deaths, and it originates from single circulating tumor cells, spreading to seed new tumors. Detection of highly aggressive circulating tumor cells at an early stage would greatly improve the chance of a successful treatment.

During the project, Lagae will collaborate with Deniz Wirtz from John’s Hopkins INBT and Johan Swinnen from KU Leuven’s department of oncology, with the aim of showing the potential of the device in metastasis detection.

Optics-related ERC consolidator grants
The ERC consolidator grants are regarded as the most prestigious for top researchers in the European Union. In total, the ERC has just awarded nearly €575 million to 312 different scientists.

Of those, at least a dozen will involve some form of optics and photonics element, including a project on optical clocks at CNRS in France, and another on optogenetics at the University of Bonn.

Aside from SCALPEL, The optics-related projects receiving ERC backing through the “consolidator” grant program include:

O2SENSE – Oxygen Sensing with Multimodality Imaging Probes (Sofia Ioana Pascu, University of Bath, UK)
ACOPS – Advanced Coherent Ultrafast Laser Pulse Stacking (Jens Limpert, Friedrich-Schiller-University of Jena, Germany)
BubbleBoost – Microfluidic bubbles for novel applications: acoustic laser and ultrasonically controlled microrobots (Philippe Marmottant, CNRS, France)
AdOC – Advanced Optical Clocks (Sebastian André Marcel Bize, CNRS, France)
NLL – Nonlinear laser lithography (Fatih Ömer Ilday, Bilkent University, Turkey)
DIDYMUS – Micromachined Optomechanical Devices: looking at cells, tissues and organs…with a gentle touch (Davide Iannuzzi, Free University of Amsterdam – Medical Center, The Netherlands)
OPTOMOT – Optical dissection of cortical motor circuits (Daniel Huber, University of Geneva, Switzerland)
OptoRibo – Optogenetic control of cellular behaviour by allosteric ribonucleid acid assembles (Günter Mayer, University of Bonn, Germany)
GALACTICNUCLEUS – The Fingerprint of a Galactic Nucleus: a multi-wavelength, high angular resolution, near-infrared study of the centre of the Milky Way (Rainer Schödel, CSIC, Spain)
NearFieldAtto – Attosecond physics at nanoscale metal tips – strong field physics in the near-field optics regime (Peter Hommelhoff, University of Erlangen-Nuremburg, Germany)
ENLIGHTENED – Nanophotonic Nanomechanical Mass Spectrometry for Biology and Health (Sébastien Hentz, CEA, France)
PHOENiCS – Photon-Spin Entanglement in Hybrid Cluster State Architectures (Mete Atature, University of Cambridge, UK)
EXQUISITE – External Quantum Control of Photonic Semiconductor Nanostructures (Stephan Erich Reitzenstein, Technical University of Berlin, Germany)
QITBOX – Quantum Information Theory with black BOXes (Antonio Acín, Institute of Photonic Sciences, Spain)

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