A quick screening to find the most optimal combination of chemotherapy drugs for the individual cancer patient may soon be a reality, thanks to newly developed Lab-on-a-Chip devices.
The recently completed 4,5-year collaborative project, IndiTreat, headed by researchers at DTU Nanotech has focused on finding new screening tools, to discover the best combination of drugs for the individual cancer patient. The same cancer type varies a great deal from patient to patient and medical doctors have few aids in choosing the best drug or drug combinations among the dozens of options available.
Hence, a simple and reliable screening method using the patient’s own cancer tissue is in great need. The project has focused on colorectal cancer which is the third most common cancer in the European Union.
Professor Niels B. Larsen says that “making a device that can be used in cancer therapy requires us to consider many aspects. Handling the cancer tissue and preparing it for analysis on the chip as well as fabricating the drug-containing chip in a quick and safe way are important issues to deal with”.
Project collaborators at Bispebjerg Hospital and at the company 2cureX have developed a simple mass producible chip to contain large numbers of small cancer tissue samples as well as reliable methods for handling, splitting, and culturing the tissue outside the body. Each sample can be exposed to a separate drug combination dispensed near the tissue, followed by visual analysis to see if the drugs kill the cancer cells or inhibit their cell growth.
The predictive value of the system is currently being tested in a clinical trial with patients recruited from a number of Danish and international hospitals.
3D printing of drug loaded chips
The chip used in the on-going clinical trial requires labour intensive dispensing of the candidate drugs next to every small piece of cancer tissue shortly before the time of testing. Preferably, a dedicated advanced pipetting robot is used to handle the highly toxic compounds. This is not optimal for final routine use in a normal hospital setting.
Researchers at DTU Nanotech have developed a next generation screening chip where all options of relevant drug combinations can be loaded on the chip during fabrication. The drugs are loaded in stabilising materials that secure a long shelf-life of the chip until the analysis is needed. This will enable much simpler and safer handling of the chemotherapeutic drugs and it will reduce the risk of analysis errors when performing drug screening in the clinic.
Niels B. Larsen explains that “today, drug screening is a slow process that requires hours of manual laboratory work. With our new chip the time consumed for choosing the best chemotherapy will be significantly reduced”.
The new technology combines the benefits of drug-loaded nanoparticles (liposomes) for controlling drug release with a special type of light-based 3D printing of soft polymers (hydrogels) for defining the amount of each drug. To use the screening chip, all that is needed is to add the cancer cells from the patient.
The method has been successfully tested on colorectal cancer cells, and the researchers see great potential for transferring it to clinical testing in the near future.
Read more about the Polymer Microsystems for Cell Processing research group at DTU Nanotech.