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Close-up of the microfluidic device / Credit: Universitat de Barcelona (UB).

Researchers design a microfluidics device to predict cancer therapy response

A team of experts from the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) and the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of the University of Barcelona has designed a microfluidic device called microfluidic dynamic BH3 profiling (μDBP) that predicts the effectiveness of cancer treatment quickly and automatically, using a small number of cells from biopsies and without requiring specialised technical staff.

The study, published in the journal npj Precision Oncology, was led by Joan Montero, professor at the UB Department of Biomedicine and IBEC, and Javier Ramón Azcón, ICREA research professor at IBEC. The paper, whose first author is Albert Manzano (UB-IBEC), who received his PhD from the UB in 2022 with a thesis on precision medicine in the fight against cancer, involves experts from the UB Faculty of Physics, the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) and the Biomedical Research Networking Center in Bioengineering, Biomaterials and Nanomedicine (CIBER-BBN).

Precision medicine in the fight against cancer

Personalized medicine has revolutionised the way we design effective cancer treatments. Considering that each tumour is unique and has its own characteristics, having predictive indicators of each patient’s response to treatment is a major step forward in oncology. The dynamic BH3 profiling (DBP) was initially developed in the laboratory of Professor Anthony LetaiProf. Montero was a co-inventor in this study— and patented in 2015 by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (United States). It was one of the first functional assays successfully tested to predict treatment in various types of cancer.

This system brings cancer cells into contact with different therapeutic options to quickly identify ex vivo the ones that might be most effective in removing the tumour. Conceptually, it is very similar to the antibiograms used to identify antibiotics to treat bacterial infections.

“We have developed this new tool with the idea of making it available to oncologists. This automated system allows us to obtain personalised patient and treatment information”, says Javier Ramón Azcón.

So far —explains Joan Montero— several studies have found a good correlation between DBP results and clinical response in primary leukaemia samples. There are currently several clinical trials underway, and we would like this technology to be implemented in hospitals in the coming years to improve cancer therapies”.

The new DBP microfluidic device —known as μDBP solves several functional assay challenges: it reduces the number of cancer cells needed to test potential ex vivo therapies and automates the process to facilitate clinical application without specialised technical staff.

“Thanks to our μDBP microfluidic platform, which is equipped with small wells for seeding cells, we can reduce the number of cells required to test a treatment. This is a decisive innovation to increase the number of drugs that can be tested”, adds Albert Manzano.

“The biggest advantage of the μDBP device is also the automation of the whole process, which would help to implement this functional methodology on a clinical scale. All these advantages would ease the adoption of DBP in hospitals as a routine trial”, the experts add.

» Reference article: Manzano-Muñoz, A.; Yeste, J.; Ortega, M.A.; Martín, F.; López, A.; Rosell, J.; Castro, S.; Serrano, C.; Samitier, J.; Ramón-Azcón, J.; Montero, J. “Microfluidic-based dynamic BH3 profiling predicts anticancer treatment efficacy”npj Precision Oncology, December 2022. Doi: 10.1038/s41698-022-00333-0

» Link to the news: IBEC website [+]