European cancer research concentrates on automated sample preparation and light ion therapy

Stockholm 18 February 2002Cancer research in Europe is taking a boost. The first application for Gyros technology is under evaluation by the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research. The work is being carried out in collaboration with Professor Ulf Hellman, a member of the Ludwig Institute. On the other hand, a new European network for research in cancer therapy has started at CERN, the European organisation for nuclear research. The European ENLIGHT initiative for nuclear research will bring together experts to co-ordinate the development of a variety of projects at European facilities for "light ion therapy", a form of radiation therapy which uses beams of the nuclei of lightweight atoms.

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The soon-to-be-launched application from Gyros is designed to improve and streamline sample preparation prior to analysis by MALDI mass spectrometry, a technique used for protein identification not only at the Ludwig Institute, but throughout the world of research and drug discovery.

Professor Hellman explained the reason for his interest: "In our Protein Structure Group we need to identify low abundance proteins and we work with minute amounts of sample, often only a few nanograms are available. We have to specialise in sample preparation techniques not only because we handle such small amounts, but also because any improvement in sample preparation can lead to an increase in sensitivity for the final analysis."

Excellent sample preparation is crucial to achieve highest sensitivity and a high success rate for identification by MALDI mass spectrometry. The micro-fluidic solution from Gyros integrates several preparation steps into one automated process and achieves sensitivity levels close to the detection limit of a MALDI mass spectrometer. Multiple samples can be processed in parallel within a microlaboratory in the form of a CD.

Professor Hellman continued: "This work will be an interesting challenge between man and machine. As anyone working with MALDI-ToF mass spectrometry knows, the most precious samples are prepared individually and with great care to ensure the highest sensitivity. To achieve a similar result on a fully automated system would be a major step forward in productivity for our laboratory."

Gyros AB offers pharmaceutical, biotechnology and diagnostic companies a unique, proprietary technology platform in which routine or non-routine laboratory processes can be miniaturised and integrated into application-specific CDs. Hundreds of samples can be processed in parallel on these disposable microlaboratories. This new platform brings outstanding gains in efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and information content.

The ability to integrate different laboratory steps on a single CD offers the potential to reassess and redesign traditional working procedures. The company was founded in 2000 as a spin-off from Amersham Biosciences and currently has more than 80 employees working at its headquarters in Uppsala Science Park, Sweden, and in regional sales offices in the USA and the United Kingdom.

"The Protein Structure Group at the Ludwig Institute works with the same techniques and has similar goals to those working in the proteomics area of drug discovery, the main target group for our new system", explained Per Sjoberg, Executive Vice President Commercial Operations at Gyros. "Professor Hellman's work will be of great benefit to us and is a perfect complement to testing already in progress at the proteomics company, Ace BioSciences, in Denmark. We are extremely confident of a successful launch within a matter of months."

The Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research was established in 1972 and research is carried out at ten different Branches located in Brussels, Lausanne, London (two sites), Melbourne, New York, San Diego, Sao Paulo, Stockholm, and Uppsala. In addition, the Institute has administrative offices in New York, London, and Zurich. The Uppsala Branch was established in 1986 with the aim of elucidating the signaling pathways in cells which control cell growth and to develop clinically useful antagonists of growth factor action.

As for the ENLIGHT initiative, radiation therapy aims to target cancerous tumours with the largest possible dose of destructive radiation, while minimising damage to surrounding healthy tissue. However, conventional X-ray therapy is not as effective for deep-seated tumours, where it can be difficult to concentrate the dose on the target area. In such cases, therapy using light ions and protons, called hydrogen ions, can be more effective as beams of light ions and protons do not diffuse so much as they travel through the body.

CERN's Director for technology and transfer and scientific computing, Hans Hoffmann, stated: "CERN can play an important role in supporting this activity. The work of our laboratory is based on a vast expertise in the physics and engineering that underlies the accelerators and detectors essential for this type of therapy."

The first ENLIGHT meeting will bring together clinicians, oncologists, physicists, and engineers from countries around the world to discuss the physics and engineering of the particle accelerators and beam systems needed to provide the light ions. Ways of increasing the clinical effectiveness and reliability of light ion therapy methods will also be discussed.

ENLIGHT's members include ESTRO, the European society for therapeutic radiology and oncology; EORTC, the European organisation for research in treatment of cancer; ETOILE, Espace de traitement oncologique par ions légers Européen; and CERN.


Leslie Versweyveld

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