Photo of Luis Azmitia

Biotechnology & medicine

Luis Azmitia

He fights off brain tumors by sequencing them in a matter of hours from the operating table to accelerate the diagnosis

Year Honored

Universitätsklinikum Schleswig-Holstein

Latin America

Hails From

Other than by perfect surgical removal, no glioblastoma, the most frequent malignant brain tumor, can be cured. Each type of brain tumor is associated with a different prognosis and different distinct therapeutic options, which means that the patient's survival can be from a few months to several years. But to determine the exact type of cancer that the patient suffers is only possible after carrying out a biopsy of the tissue removed during surgery.

The researcher of the Department of Neurosurgery of the Medical Hospital of Schleswig-Holstein (Germany), Luis Azmitia, proposes an alternative: to sequence the genome of the tumor during the surgery itself with the nanopores sequencer MinION, marketed by Oxford Nanopore. With this approach, the patient would have his diagnosis in the same day of the biopsy. Thanks to this idea, Azmitia has become one of the winners of the Innovators Under 35 Latin America 2018 from MIT Technology Review in Spanish.

"The diagnosis regularly takes between six to nine days, but being able to have it on the day of the intervention is a huge advantage, especially in developing countries, since it prevents the patient from having to go back to the hospital to collect the results," explains Azmitia. In addition, this agility "would allow treatment to start during the first hospital admission," he adds.

The researcher's proposal aims to take advantage of the portability of the MinION sequencers, which are similar in size to a deck of cards, to perform the genotyping of the tumors directly in the operating room in which the sample of the tumor removed from the patient's brain has been extracted. Azmitia's preliminary research demonstrates the viability of his idea since he has managed to obtain the genotype of this type of sample in just a few hours.

However, the main line of research of this young Guatemalan focuses on the development of therapies capable of eliminating glioblastoma cells. "Ideally, in the future, if the diagnosis of a glioblastoma is confirmed during the operation to remove it, antitumor treatment could be started before the surgery is finished," Azmitia states.

The Research Coordinator at the Faculty of Medical Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua, Marlene Muñoz Gaitán, jury member of Innovators Under 35 Latin America 2018, points out that "this project is very important for society," and believes that "its implementation would greatly help those people who suspect suffer a brain tumor."