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IES Prestigious Engineering Achievement Award received for innovative biochip that detects cancer

06 September 2010



REMARKABLE INVENTION: Recognised for their innovative biochip that detects cancer cells, Prof Lim Chwee Teck from NUS' Faculty of Engineering (shown above) and his PhD student Mr Tan Swee Jin were presented with the IES Prestigious Engineering Achievement Award 2010
It made news last year as a microchip that can extract rare circulating cancer cells from blood with high isolation efficiency and purity. The device which won the Merit Award for the Open Category of the Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors Award 2009 has engineered its way to clinch yet another award. For this invention, Prof Lim Chwee Teck from NUS' Faculty of Engineering and his PhD student Mr Tan Swee Jin were presented with the IES (Institution of Engineers Singapore) Prestigious Engineering Achievement Award 2010 on 4 September.

Prof Lim, who also heads the Nano Biomechanics Lab, led the research which resulted in this micro biochip. He said: "We are very honoured to receive this award. I did not expect what started as a less than $15,000 project that everybody was skeptical about to lead to two awards, a spin-off company and a number of collaborations with the clinicians both locally and overseas. It is a strong recognition of how this technology can greatly benefit cancer patients."

Prof Lim is also a founding partner of Clearbridge Biomedics, its offshoot and NUS' spin-off company, which has successfully used the device to capture kidney and lung cancer cells. He is currently collaborating with National Cancer Centre Singapore, National University Health System, Singapore General Hospital, KK Women's and Children's Hospital and Cancer Science Institute of Singapore to run tests on breast, prostate, stomach, liver, nasopharyngeal and ovarian cancer cells.

The prototype which is able to isolate patient's cancer cells for further analysis will help to shed light on the development of the disease. Numbering and studying the characteristics of these cancer cells will also be useful for clinicians to monitor how well their patients are responding to cancer treatment or surgery or to personalise treatment.

The method is an alternative, easier and less invasive way of isolating cancer cells from blood (liquid biopsy) rather through the usual tumor biopsy. Currently, the use of biomarkers is one of the leading techniques used to detect cancer. However, the sensitivity of such tests varies with different cancer types and is dependent on the biomarkers as not all cancer cells expressed the biomarkers being used and some cancer cells may be missed.

"Our method of using this biochip allows us to study cancer cells more precisely as we are able to physically trap and retrieve them in their native state for further analysis. The method is non-invasive as getting blood sample does not involve needle aspiration, unlike conducting a tumour biopsy. Furthermore, no staining or pre-treatment of the cells is required," said Prof Lim.

Prof Lim has also recently been elected into the World Council of Biomechanics, comprising world leaders in the field of biomechanics. Council membership is by election only and the members serve a nominal 12-year term.

By Faculty of Engineering



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