Microfluidic platform for drug screening of cancer biopsies

Microfluidic platform for drug screening of cancer biopsies

Combinations of cancer drugs can be quickly and cheaply tested on tumor cells using a novel device developed by scientists. The research, reported in Nature Communications marks the latest advancement in the field of personalized medicine.

Using a microfluidic device that fits in the palm of your hand, scientists screened over 1100 treatment conditions (56 drug combinations x 20 replicates) on patient tumor cells. In the future, such tests could be used to inform clinicians on safe and effective combinations of cancer treatments.

Directly testing multiple cancer drugs on biopsies - parts of the tumor which have been taken from a patient - is a powerful way to discover which drugs work best, and for whom. This is because depending on the specific tumor characteristics, cancer therapies can be more effective in some people than others. However, large-scale patient specific drug screenings have so far been limited by the small biopsy size that can typically be obtained from patients. That is why in the current paper, the team developed a miniaturised device which can test more drugs on a limited number of cells.

The research team initially tested 56 drug combinations on two different human cancer cell types grown in the lab. Drug combinations which killed both types of cancer cells were thought to be potentially toxic and thus unsafe for further testing. However, some drug combinations which targeted and killed only one type of cancer cell were found to be more effective than standard clinical therapies which only use one drug. These results were highly reproducible and could be validated in mouse models of human cancer.

Subsequently, cells from four cancer patient biopsies were applied to the microfluidic device and different drug combinations were tested. "We found that each individual cancer responded best to a different combination of drugs, highlighting the urgent need for patient-specific therapies," says joint first author on the paper.

"Before we transfer this technology into the clinics, we need to repeat these experiments in larger-scale mouse studies to understand which types of cancer this technology works best in," says the senior author. "Still, this is an exciting 'proof of principle' collaboration between scientists and clinicians, and we have shown that these tests can be run quickly and for less than $150 USD per patient."