Sanaz Asgarifar, a PhD student from IT and the University of Algarve (UAlg), was the winner of the Fraunhofer Portugal Challenge 2018, winning the first prize in the PhD theses category with the work "Novel Treatment of Glioblastoma Brain Tumor using Bioelectronic Devices".
Created in 2010, the Fraunhofer Portugal Challenge is a contest sponsored by the Fraunhofer Portugal Research Association, a non-profit organization, funded by the German Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, a research company with 58 institutes spread all over Germany. The ideas competing in the contest must be based on MsC´s or PhD thesis, whose research is of practical utility, market oriented and focused on the areas of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), Multimedia and other related sciences.
As the title announces, in her thesis, under the supervision of Henrique Leonel Gomes (IT/UAlg) and Maria da Graça Ruano (UAlg), Sanaz Asgarifar proposes using bioelectronics devices in the treatment of Glioblastoma Brain Tumor, the most common cancer of the central nervous system. The method uses electronic components capable of interacting with the cell signaling mechanism to regulate biological functions, that is, the device uses electrical signals to instruct cancer cells to enter into a quiescent state or die.
The work developed by Sanaz Asgarifar shows that the cancer cells communicate with each other, using electrical oscillations. However, the amplitude of these oscillations is of only a few microvolts, which is 1000x weaker than the action potential of a neuron, which reaches amplitudes of millivolts. Therefore, measuring and understanding these signs is a priority for the treatment of cancer.
This thesis proposes using electronic devices to decode a "dictionary" of signals used by cancer cells and determine their impact on cell activity and migration. Once these signals are decoded, the devices can stimulate the tumor with electrical signal patterns to inhibit cell growth and even evoke apoptotic signals.
The hope is that this research can be applied to develop a prototype of a biomedical device adhering to the skin. The device can be implemented in flexible, soft and biocompatible substrates to act locally, with minimal effects on nearby healthy tissues. The results of this study will lead to the development of new locoregional therapies to inhibit and suppress brain tumors.