Interview by Sulastri Kamis
Cancer is a devastating and bewildering disease. It can come about as a result of spontaneous mutation, without any rhyme or reason or as a result of a genetic predisposition of which cancer may develop later in life. The easiest diagnosis of suspected cancer is when a tumor is involved. A seemingly benign lump that has grown over a period of time or the appearance of one. Once diagnosed, one is lucky if the cancer is classified as Stage 1. The aim for medical practitioners and researchers is to develop a method for early diagnosis to support better prognosis. The earlier cancer is detected, the lower the mortality rate. APBN speaks to Dr. Wang Shutao, a nanotechnologist with a penchant for catching cancer in a cheaper, better and faster way.
In the past year you have been involved in a lot of publications in the field of nanotechnology. How did your evolution from chemist to nanotechnologist come about? Have you always had an interest in nanotechnology?
Nanoscience is a new emerging, meaningful, and useful research branch. The important part of nanoscience to me, as well as to many other chemists, is that nanoscience and nanotechnology can help us understand and resolve issues, especially in interfacial area, which could not be settled using traditional chemical/physical theories. For example, the secret of the self-cleaning lotus leaf in nature is revealed by chemists using advanced microscope SEM, which is designed for observing micro/nanostructures. Nanoscaled structure-enhancement effect is found to be critical for obtaining superhydrophobicity. It’s very interesting and it is what I’m concerned with and my research is actually in the interdisciplinary area of chemistry, biology, and nanoscience.
Your latest research has been centered on capture and release technology of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) with the success of the ‘Nano-Velcro’ microfluidic chip, what has been the progress since its release?
The local topographical enhancement effect between cell surface structures and substrate structures is very important, not only for rare cell capture but also for understanding cell-substrate interactions. We are trying to systematically and deeply study this effect by designing bio-inspired special functional interfacial materials. Besides, it is very important and useful to develop applicable CTC capture devices for cancer therapy and cancer biological study. So we are trying to design CTC-Chips with more advanced functions, and cooperating with medical institutions.
The ‘Nano-Velcro’ microfluidic chip is based on a sticky nanopillar-covered silicon chip interacting with a nanostructured on CTC villi. This implies that the nanopillars are coated with some kind of antibody am I right to say so? If so, by changing the antibodies coated, the chip would also be able to capture almost any cell that involves an antigen-antibody interaction. Could you comment on that?
Yes, the nanopillars are coated by antibody specific to certain kind of CTCs. By changing the capture agent to other specific molecules such as other antibodies, the chip can also be used for capturing other kind of cells. In fact, the design principle of our chip can be utilized by other cell capture systems.
The technology thus far has been used to target CTCs for diagnosis. After it has been captured, will the state of the CTC change? If not, can this be used to capture other cells, let’s say stem cells?
The viability of cells captured on the chip is very high. The silicon-based chip is supposed to be compatible to cells, thus the state of the CTCs will not change. The stem cell capture system is also being studied and developed in our lab.
Would this be applicable to broad range of cancers? Or currently limited to breast, colorectal and prostate cancer where CTC presence is strong?
The chip designed by us is for most of the malignant epithelial tumors that express epithelial cell adhesion molecule antigen. That is to say, it is not only limited to breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer studied in our experiment.
How will this change cancer therapy in the future? And how long do you think before this becomes part of mainstream medicine?
The high efficiency and specificity of our CTCs chip is what is desired by clinical CTC detection devices. The advantages of the CTC chip could help doctors finding and monitoring cancer metastasis more promptly and effectively. This can facilitate the correct treatment and will save more lives as metastasis is the first killer of cancer. Moreover, the cost of the CTC chip is low and the detection time is short than traditional devices, which is also beneficial for patient. Therefore, I think the CTC chip is promising to be the mainstream CTC detection devices in the following decades.
Could you share with us what are your other research interests other than bio-inspired interfacial chemistry if any?
I am also interested in studying and understanding the mechanism behind the bio-recognition and adhesion on interfaces, nano-bio sensors and devices, etc.
Could you share with us what are you currently working on now?
Our group is working on the design of bio-inspired multi-scaled functional materials, interfacial materials for cancer detection and electro-chemical sensors, etc.
About the Interviewee
Shutao Wang, Ph.D, now is a Professor of Chemistry, Beijing National Lab of Molecular Sciences, Key Lab of Organic Solid, Institute of Chemistry Chinese Academy of Sciences (ICCAS). He got his PhD in Physical Chemistry under supervision of
Prof. Lei Jiang in ICCAS (2007). Then he worked as a postdoctoral fellow at California NanoSystems Institute and Department of Pharmacology in University of California at Los Angeles. In 2010, he joined ICCAS as a Professor of Chemistry. He is an associate editor of NPG Asia Materials, and has served as an Editorial Board Member of Current Biological Chemistry. Currently Dr. Shutao Wang’s researches focus on the multiscale bio-interfacial materials with controllable adhesion.