The researchers in medical technology at Luleå University of Technology have wind in their sails. New technological solutions are needed to help meet Europe’s rapidly growing needs for healthcare.
The development of the mini-lab Lab on a Chip is one of 22 projects being pursued within the framework of the Center for Medical Technology and Physics, CMTF, a joint initiative involving Luleå University of Technology and Umeå University.
Professor Olof Lindahl and his research associate Kerstin Ramser in Luleå are developing a so-called micro-flow system to study, for instance, how the vital oxygen-bearing protein neuroglobin, which is found in brain cells, is affected by the lack of oxygen that occurs in stroke.
Neuroglobin was discovered in 2000 by a German research team and occurs primarily in brain cells. Overproduction of neuroglobin in the brains of mice has been shown to mitigate the consequences of damage relating to oxygen deficiency in stroke.
“Today there are no really good methods for studying how individual cells signal under oxygen-poor conditions,” says Kerstin Ramser. “One advantage of the new technology we use is that it is now possible to select and isolate specific cells in a controlled environment.”
The Lab on a Chip that the Luleå researchers have produced measures 2 X 6 cm and fits on the specimen glass of a microscope. This makes it possible to reduce the size of the sample, in blood analysis, for example.
“What we are studying is the electrophysiological activity of brain cells, that is, their capacity to communicate with other cells under oxygen-poor and entirely oxygen-free conditions,” says Kerstin Ramser.
To be able to study how brain cells are affected by stroke, researchers pump fluids with varying levels of oxygen content into channels in the mini-lab. The channels are extremely small, corresponding to one third of the thickness of a hair. Once the fluid has been pumped into the system, the cell sample is introduced. With the help of optical tweezers, which use laser beams to capture and move cells, the scientists can select and isolate a specific cell in order to study how it behaves in various oxygen mixtures.
“Enhance the quality of care today is largely a matter of developing new technologies that help us advance our knowledge of the major diseases, such as cancer, stroke, or Parkinson’s,” says Kerstin Ramser.
There are some 8 professors and 20-25 researchers in the field of medical technology at Luleå University of Technology today. Much of the medical technology research conducted at Luleå University of Technology is done together with researchers from Umeå University in an interdisciplinary collaboration where Luleå provides the technological expertise and Umeå the medical competence.
The research center CMTF involves not only the two universities but also the Norrbotten and Västerbotten County Councils, companies, and researchers from Sweden, Japan, Germany, Spain, and other countries. They develop products and services for more secure healthcare.
Their work is partly funded by EU Goal2. A researcher-owned company for developing businesses, financed by the County Administrations, Innovation Bridge North, LTU Holding, Uminova Innovation, and the parties involved, is tied to the Center.