Paul Li and James Li

Chip technology could transform cancer Therapy

November 29, 2007

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By Diane Luckow

SFU chemistry professor Paul Li (above right) and his new SFU spin-off company ZellChip are developing micro-fluidic chip technology that could dramatically improve the effectiveness of cancer-drug therapies.

Li says many cancer cells develop multi-drug resistance (MDR) during chemotherapy and actually reject drugs that are intended to kill them. His patent-pending technology, which was a finalist in the 2007 New Ventures BC technology-business-idea competition, will let doctors take cancer cells from a patient and apply chemotherapy drugs and MDR inhibitors directly to the cells. The technology can isolate a single cancer cell and determine which drug combination is most effective at killing it.

"Doctors and patients can lose a lot of time trying chemotherapies that don’t work," says Li. His technology will enable physicians to prescribe the most effective treatment immediately, without wasting time on therapies that won’t work on an individual patient’s cancer.

The chip, about the size of a quarter, contains channels and chambers in which the cancer cell is manipulated while determining its response to various drugs. Li envisions a user-friendly kit that doctors can use in cancer clinics to rule out inappropriate drugs and prescribe only those that work the best. Zellchip will be developing the kit over the next few years.

Li is currently using the technology to test the effectiveness of different drugs on leukemia cells, in collaboration with the B.C. Cancer Agency. He and graduate research student James Li (above left) are also using the technology in his SFU lab to experiment with traditional Chinese herbal cancer remedies.

So far, Li has confirmed the properties of two herbal inhibitors and even identified a new one, and all of them are effective on drug-resistant leukemia cells.

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