Feature article

How High-Tech Tools Have Fast-Tracked Cancer Research

The new wave of ultra-fast technology has redefined oncology 

A slow pace has no place in oncology, where every minute matters. From office visit to diagnosis to treatment, cancer patients deserve lightning-fast solutions enabled by rapid research — and faster, more advanced technologies have made it possible.

As a result, high-tech drug discovery, biopharmaceuticals, and cellular advances have opened the floodgates for more effective approaches to basic and translational research — leading to faster findings in cutting-edge fields like immunotherapy and stem cell research.

A call for faster research

Those therapies, along with others bettered by smarter machines, are what former Vice President Joe Biden called for as he spoke at the American Association for Cancer Research in 2016: “I need your help,” he told the crowd. “I need honest evaluations of the kind of changes that could be made1.”

His words not only embodied those of a public official — but of someone personally affected by cancer, following his son Beau’s death from glioblastoma in 20152. Such sentiments are echoed by anyone (patient, researcher, doctor, caregiver) who has seen cancer’s impact first-hand. Overwhelmingly, the consensus is this: We need to hurry up.

With technology, we can.

3 high-tech tools leading the way

New-generation tools equip physicians with faster and more comprehensive access to the latest research developments in oncology. And often, they do it in seconds — saving precious time and resources in a field that has few to spare. They include:

Advanced microscopy for cellular analysis.

Up until 25 years ago, researchers couldn’t keep cells alive long enough to study them, affected as they were under the heat of the microscope. But now, super-resolution microscopy like GE Healthcare’s DeltaVision OMX SR not only facilitates live-cell imaging, it does so in stunning, 3D images that help researchers see cell behavior in all three spatial directions: X, Y, and Z. That speed and precision enables faster insight within compressed research timelines and has yielded research published in Cell, Scientific Reports, and other peer-reviewed journals.

Start-to-finish production for cell therapy.

The boom of personalized medicine and adoptive cell transfer has brought with it a need for end-to-end workflow support that connects the different steps of cell therapy, from isolation to expansion to harvesting. To make commercialization a reality, automating that step-by-step process gives cell therapies like immunotherapy the best chance for clinical success. That’s why high-tech tools like GE Healthcare’s Xuri, Sefia and Asymptote systems are so vital — they reduce the risk of human error while expediting cellular research.

Automated protein purification.

By now, many investigators have cut their purification times in half by moving manual processes to automated chromatography systems like GE Healthcare’s ÄKTA line. Those kinds of faster, more powerful technologies have helped researchers like those at Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies expand their production capacity and reduce turnaround times for drug manufacturing.

From bench to bedside through stronger science

Indeed, faster, high-powered machines have completely revolutionized cancer research. But what does that mean for patient care and physicians on the frontlines? It means getting life-saving medicine faster than ever.

Put simply, these high-tech tools, from super-resolution microscopy to automated protein purification, accelerate research insights by making science stronger — and less prone to human error and contamination. Doing so could reduce the lag in cancer drug development, according to a 2017 paper in the Journal of Commercial Biotechnology3.

In that research, investigators noted that it takes an average of 10 years for cancer drugs to reach patients, even though patients don’t have that long to wait. So how can researchers shorten that window? Through tackling what causes the time lag: Enabling reproducible data, minimizing human error and reducing the risk of contamination.

As new tech shepherds forward more opportunities to automate manual processes, we’re excited to see just how lightning-fast cancer research can become.

References: 

  1. Vice President Joe Biden Speaks at the AACR Annual Meeting 2016. American Association for Cancer Research. http://blog.aacr.org/vice-president-joe-biden-speaks-aacr-annual-meeting-2016/. Accessed March 28, 2018.
  2. Beau Biden, Vice President Joe Biden’s Son, Dies at 46. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/31/us/politics/joseph-r-biden-iii-vice-presidents-son-beau-dies-at-46.html. Accessed March 28, 2018.
  3. A Guide to Time Lag and Time Lag Shortening Strategies in Oncology-Based Drug Development. Journal of Commercial Biotechnology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5675122/#. Accessed March 28, 2018.