On a rectangular chip slightly smaller than a person’s finger, two scientists and an engineer are writing what they hope will be the blueprint for the future of drug testing.
The researchers are studying the behaviors of cells to learn more about how cells send signals to each other. How are cells affected by the flow of blood? And how can they be studied outside the body?
The problem that the group hopes to solve is a challenge that confronts many cancer patients: How can drugs be made to kill cancerous cells without harming healthy cells and tissue nearby?
The researchers represent three disciplines. Yaling Liu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics at Lehigh Univ., studies the interfacial phenomena that occur at the micro- and nanoscale of biological systems.
And Daniel Ou-Yang, professor of physics, has developed novel methods of using microscopy and lasers, including “optical tweezers,” to study the activities of cells at the nanoscale.
By conducting tests on a chip, researchers can approximate the environment a drug encounters inside the human body and track its fate in that environment, says Liu. Chips are cheap—each costs less than a dollar to make, and multiple tests can be run simultaneously on a series of chips. Size is another advantage. In a test, the small chip uses only about a tenth of the amount of drug and tissue required by more conventional testing methods.