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Imaging technology deal puts next-generation chip technology in focus

21 January 2009

Professor Paul Smith and Dr Rachel Errington, co-developers of CyMapProfessor Paul Smith and Dr Rachel Errington, co-developers of CyMap

A deal has been agreed between two leading medical technology development companies to advance new lens-free imaging equipment co-developed by scientists at the School of Medicine and the Gray Cancer Institute Oxford.

With the potential to speed-up disease diagnosis and drug screening, the technology transfer agreement will see Cancer Research Technology Limited, the oncology-focused development and commercialisation company, and the technology development specialists The Technology Partnership plc take forward CyMap.

CyMap is one of the inventions emerging from the Optical Biochips Consortium led by the University’s Professor of Cancer Biology, Professor Paul Smith. Professor Smith was in overall charge of the £2.3 million biochip project carried out by the Consortium and funded by Research Councils UK.

CyMap is a lensless imaging chip able to detect a range of particle types in a solution and holds the potential to be used in highly cost-effective medical diagnostics systems in hospitals, doctors’ surgeries and research laboratories to detect, quantify and analyse cultured cells and medical samples including blood. Previously, miniaturised lab-on-a-chip devices for cell imaging have been limited to measuring only a few parameters and have required complex optics.

Professor Smith, co-inventor alongside Dr Rachel Errington also from the School of Medicine, said optical biochips may do for medical research what silicon chips have done for computers. He said: "This technology will mean that we can act in terms of diagnosing disease at the cellular level very quickly. It is envisaged that CyMAP can be developed into a hand-held device which should make the equipment accessible and affordable for more people working in cancer and other health related disciplines across the world, not just the larger well-equipped biosciences laboratories."

CyMap, a next-generation chip technology which could speed up disease diagnosisCyMap, a next-generation chip technology which could speed up disease diagnosis

CyMap is based on the principle that when illuminated using a simple light source, the technology enables 'items' such as cells or pathogens in a sample to create light diffraction and interference patterns that can be recorded by a charge-coupled device - a type of digital camera - and then analysed using computer algorithms. It will enable scientists to count the number of 'items' in a sample, and also to monitor changes over time, such as location, movement and division of cells.

The information will be useful in helping scientists understand cell division and cell movement - important in some normal processes such as wound healing, and in some diseases including cancer.

In the diagnostics field, CyMap may also be developed to monitor bacterial contamination, the presence of other pathogens, or to count red and white blood cells. One of the other advantages of CyMap technology is that it can be easily miniaturised and integrated with microfluidic systems - and it may also have other wider research applications as well.

The intellectual property arising from this laboratory-based research has been assigned to Cancer Research Technology Limited, the company wholly owned by Cancer Research UK. Cancer Research Technology Limited has filed a patent to protect the academic work.

Paul Galluzzo, consulant at The Technology Partnership, said: "We frequently work in partnership with the scientists who made the discovery to bring exciting concepts to the marketplace. CyMap is genuinely innovative and we believe it has great commercial potential, for example to enable new diagnostic platforms, and to introduce imaging capability to products where imaging is currently too expensive. The next stage will be to develop the technology for a range of specific product areas."

Dr Phil L'Huillier, Cancer Research Technology Limited’s director of business management said: "We hope CyMap will help understand and predict what is happening to patients at a basic biological level. This could, one day, have an impact on treatments and how they are delivered. CyMap technology has the potential to be cheaper, more compact and simpler to use which will hopefully prevent doctors from having to send as many samples to laboratories for analysis and enable quicker and easier monitoring of the samples."

CyMap emerged from the optical biochip portfolio of inventions – ranging from new laser chip technologies for the detections and analysis of cancer cells to the control of cell behaviour using micropatterned surfaces.

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