Drugs have to be thoroughly tested before patients are allowed to swallow them or doctors to inject them. Will they produce the desired effect? What side effects will occur? In the case of cancer drugs, a new test system in the form of a 3-D tumor model could provide the answers. Jacqueline Michaelis laid the basis for this while writing her Masters thesis at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart, and won the 2nd Hugo Geiger Prize for Life Sciences. “What is unique about this model is that it contains a functioning bloodstream,” says Michaelis. “It doesn’t just consist of tumor cells like conventional test systems, but also of endothelial cells which line the vessels. These cells form a natural barrier between the bloodstream and the tumor.” Researchers would no longer need to apply new cancer drugs directly to the tumor cells for testing, but could instead introduce them into the model’s bloodstream. “The active agents then have to overcome the barrier of endothelial cells before they can exit the bloodstream and reach the tumor. Only upon arrival do they begin to work. This model brings us much closer to the natural situation in the body than any previous model.” It may even be possible in future to extract patients’ own cells from the tumor and use them for individualized therapies. After all, different bodies react differently to cancer therapy. Third prize went to Michael Kurzschenkel, a graduate engineer. At the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems IMS, he investigated to what extent it is possible to image structures in the vascular system – particularly the heart – endoscopically through the blood. His novel imaging system could enable the blood-filled, beating heart to be observed from within. Such systems have not been available until now, as blood is impervious to light. “My thesis forms part of a project that aims at developing a diagnostic element of this type. Such a system would enable doctors to treat vascular and other heart diseases more effectively,” says Kurzschenkel. The special feature of this device, which is inserted in the same way as a cardiac catheter, is that it uses infrared light instead of visible light to look into the beating heart. “I was able to demonstrate that it is possible, even through blood, to achieve high-resolution images with a good penetration depth in the infrared range,” adds Kurzschenkel, summarizing his results. His investigations have laid the basis for developing such an angioscope. The device is expected to have a very high market potential.
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