Israeli student's life-saving chip that finds best cancer treatment within days

Hebrew University PhD student Eliana Steinberg's creation promises to revolutionise cancer medicine


A microchip created in Israel promises to revolutionise cancer medicine and save lives by identifying the best treatment for a patient within days.

The breakthrough offers fresh hope for cancer sufferers who currently may have to endure chemotherapy for weeks or months to find out if it works. The 3D chip has been developed by 28-year-old Israeli PhD student, Eliana Steinberg.

Doctors can place several biopsy samples from the same tumour in it to test out different treatments and find out which works best. The results come through within two weeks in laboratory trials, and the hope is to cut that to an even shorter waiting time.

Having trained as a pharmacist and spent a year in the job, Ms Steinberg has seen at first hand how haphazard cancer treatments can be. She told the JC: “When a patient gets diagnosed, and they try a few different chemotherapies, it takes a few weeks to a few months until they find out that they are resistant to the treatment, and by that time usually, there isn’t time to try out different combinations of treatments.”

One patient left a particular impression: “There was a man who was in his late sixties. He came to me and he told me that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and that the doctor missed it in his blood tests. A lot of people have it and get treatment, but because the doctor missed it in the blood tests, by the time it was noticed, it had already progressed.

“I also knew his wife; they always came to the pharmacy. It was a feeling of helplessness and sadness, and I wanted to ease his suffering.”

This was her motivation to go back to college: “I wanted to continue on to research and try to help them on the other side, once they’re diagnosed, and help the fight the disease as best they can.”

Going to the School of Pharmacy at Hebrew University to study for a master’s that developed into a PhD, she made her breakthrough about six months ago in her supervisor Professor Ofra Benny’s lab. Professor Benny won the funding for the project and leads it.

Eliana recalled the “Eureka!” moment she conceived of the chip design: “I was just like, ‘We could do this, why don’t other people do this?’ This is the simplest and easiest way, and I knew it would work.”

Describing the chip, she said: “It’s a kind of plastic which has wells and different channels, into which we put the different biopsy tissues. In this chip, I test different chemotherapies and medications according to the doctor’s recommendations, because they know the specific patient’s history and mutations.”

The chip can be opened and closed, avoiding leakage, and samples within it can be taken out and examined under a microscope. Other chips for testing out therapies take a month or longer to get results and are less accurate, according to Ms Steinberg.

It currently takes two weeks for the new chip to show a result, but Eliana is not satisfied: “I would like it to take under two weeks. That would be optimal. I would say that it takes [other companies] a few weeks, at least a month; five to six weeks.”

The youngest of six children in an Orthodox Jewish family, Eliana is driven by a desire to help others: “I always loved biology from a very young age, but I always wanted to combine it with clinical aspects.

“I didn’t want to just research something purely out of curiosity; I wanted it to also have an important impact on humanity.”

Professor Benny told the JC: “Our next step is to complete a more comprehensive clinical trial in order to measure device accuracy in predictions and then, we intend to start a company that will take this through all the regulatory steps required prior to routine clinical use.”

The hope is that within around two years the new technology can be used for patients within Israel. Medicine regulators in other countries around the world may then give their approval in the following years.

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