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Fighting Cancer With Intel's Nano Knowledge

Hoping to find better ways of battling cancer, one leading research center is looking to Intel for help.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip making giant Thursday said it will work with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center focusing on Intel's expertise in nanotechnology to develop improved methods of studying, diagnosing and preventing cancer.

Researchers say some of the same techniques used in making semiconductors will help them identify proteins in human blood serum that foretell the susceptibility, presence or prognosis of diseases such as cancer. At the same time, Intel said it will learn from them about potential applications and benefits of the technology.

"The goal is to determine if this technology, previously used to detect microscopic imperfections on silicon chips, can also detect subtle traces of disease," said Andrew Berlin, the lead researcher on Intel Precision Biology program.

To launch the effort, Intel is building an Intel Raman Bioanalyzer System at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. The instrument beams lasers onto tiny medical samples, such as blood serum, to create images that reveal the chemical structure of molecules.

The Intel Raman Bioanalyzer System is based on a technique known as Raman spectroscopy. The company uses this technique to analyze subtle chemical compositions during the chip fabrication process. By shining a laser beam at an object, molecules within the substance are stimulated to give off a spectrum that can be detected by sensors in a Raman spectrometer. Because every substance has a unique chemical composition, every substance produces a unique Raman spectrum -- the equivalent of a chemical barcode tag.

"This collaboration is a unique and exciting interaction," Dr. Lee Hartwell, Nobel Laureate and center president and director said in a statement. "Biologists have never before had such a method for studying the molecular structure of biology. This is true discovery-based research; we don't know what we will see or learn. It may lead to a new era of molecular diagnostics and improved methods of early disease detection."

The Fred Hutchinson center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the Pacific Northwest and is one of 39 nationwide. The center receives more funding from the National Institutes of Health than any other independent U.S. research center and is recognized internationally for its pioneering work in bone-marrow transplantation. Separated into four scientific divisions collaborate, the center works with its clinical and research partners, the University of Washington and Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center.

Since it was formed, Intel's Precision Biology research team of chemists, engineers, biologists and physicists combine expertise in microbiology and molecular analysis with Intel's core expertise in microelectronics, MEMS and nanotechnology. The team is focused on long-range research to create fundamental advances in sensor technology, and to work together with the medical community to make it possible to one day use chips to diagnose disease and improve people's health.

Intel has been working diligently to make inroads with the $1.3 trillion health care industry. At its Developers show in February, the company said it has partnered with elder-care groups like the Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST) and the American Association of Home and Services for the Aging to advise it on the specific needs of an aging population.

"This is just the R&D technology we are working on. This is not a business decision for our products. We are not becoming a health care company," Intel CTO Pat Gelsinger said at the time. "In the same way that we helped the communications industry and did not do it on our own, we are basically describing a new area that we feel we can help."



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