Politecnico di Milano partner of the European project PROCHIP

Small super-resolution microscopy to understand the structure of cancer cells and develop personalised treatments

The European project PROCHIP (Chromatin organization PROfiling with high-throughput super-resolution microscopy on a CHIP), coordinated by the National Research Council (CNR), of which Politecnico di Milano is a partner, aims to develop an innovative microscopy capable of analysing a large number of cancer cells and obtaining information on the spatial distribution of chromatin, to thereby identify a parameter for use as cancer marker. The possibility of observing the distribution of chromatin will help decipher the heterogeneity of certain types of cancer, as well as assess their response to treatments and successfully develop a personalised medicine for each specific patient.

It is by now clear that the origins of cancer might be both genetic and epigenetic, i.e. that cancer is caused not only by mutations in the DNA sequence but also by mutations of its structure, made up of layers of chromatin. Epigenetic studies that analyse the mechanisms in charge of inheritable changes in the genome have in fact proved that the microenvironment can influence the cell behaviour causing alterations in the chromatin inside the cell nucleus, resulting in the transformation of healthy cells to cancer ones.

The PROCHIP microscopy will be an optofluidic device in glass capable of automatically scanning a large number of samples; it will be developed on chips and will be able to acquire images with a resolution exceeding the limit of light diffraction. Unlike microscopies that can realise super-resolution images, the prototype implemented by PROCHIP will encompass in just one device a sample lighting system and a micro-channel in which the cells under examination will flow at such a speed as to enable a higher measurement rate than that permitted by current technologies.

The European project FET Open H2020 PROCHIP is coordinated by the CNR’s Institute of Photonics and Nanotechnologies and consists of 6 partners from 3 European countries, including universities, research centres and one company: CNR – coordinator (Italy), Politecnico di Milano (Italy), Imperial College of Science Technology and Medicine (United Kingdom), University of Trento (Italy), Institut National des Sciences Appliquées de Lyon (France), Université d’Angers (France), and Elvesys (France). The project will start in September 2018 and will end in August 2021.