Researchers have helped develop a lab device that could speed up the adoption of new anti-cancer treatments.
It is a small, versatile and simple-to-use microfluidic system that consists of a series of chambers, enabling scientists to monitor the response of hypoxic cells - deficient in oxygen and therefore resistant to therapy - when drugs are introduced.
The advantage of the new device - made of glass or plastic - is that it enables researchers to visualise the micro environment and monitor how cells respond in real time to the drug being tested.
Also, the test cells - after being grown in the lab - can be spheroid, as opposed to the flat "2D" cells normally relied on by researchers. The "3D" nature of cells inside the microfluidic device means that it is possible to visualise what is happening to them internally.
"We can see the drugs moving in, and see hypoxia developing in the centre," said Professor and senior author, who added that the new system could also be used for a wide range of other applications.
One of the conclusions of the article in Scientific Reports is that while there have been major improvements in knowledge of cancer cell biology, clinical approval of new drugs has not kept pace. One strategy in response is to "develop new in vitro preclinical models that are better predictors of success in advanced preclinical and clinical testing".
Now the microfluidic device will help address the urgent need for a new in vitro model able to mimic key aspects of the tumor microenvironment and therefore allow early assessment of the effects of drugs, speeding up the adoption of those that are shown to be therapeutically effective.