New Solution: Human tissue-on-a-chip: a personalised response is possible

21 April 2016

Work funded by the NC3Rs at the University of Hull has led to the development of microfluidic devices capable of maintaining architecture, physiology and function of human tissue ex vivo. Used in an industrial setting, these devices have the potential to reduce the use of animals for efficacy and safety testing of drugs and other products and to establish patient-specific drug approaches.

Now, the researchers that developed the technology are seeking partners to help explore the further application of their microfluidic devices in three areas aligned with the major focus of their research – the study of tumour biology. These potential application areas are:

  • The development of personalised treatment for solid tumours.
  • Applying dual-flow chips for independently perfusing and treating different tissue layers; e.g. epithelial versus stromal layers.
  • To study precision cut patient-derived xenograft (PDX) slices from existing in vivo models.

The team at the University of Hull has a unique combination of biological, engineering and clinical expertise and facilities for collecting and exploiting biological samples on bespoke series of microfluidic devices. Collaborations are sought with pharmaceutical, consumer product/cosmetic, and/or chemical companies to:

  • Allow pseudo-clinical trials to be undertaken on new, or novel combinations of existing drugs, for various tumour types to establish efficacy on a personalised basis.
  • Establish robust devices for maximising data output from PDX tumour slices.
  • To explore the utility of these devices for undertaking toxicology studies across a range of industries.

If successful, this approach has the potential to reduce the use of animals in the generation of PDX models, which is currently a very inefficient process. For example biopsies from 29 sarcoma patients were used to create PDX, but of these only 22  were successful in forming xenografts and sadly six of these patients died before any treatment testing was commenced.(12)  Thus from an original 29 patients only 16 (55%) generated PDX models able to provide data of any clinical value. With multiple animals being used in the establishment and subsequent passage of each individual tumour, the total number of animals required for these studies can be considerable.  Combining novel chip-based devices with ex vivo PDX tumour tissue slices could markedly reduce animals required for generating PDX models as it is possible to obtain multiple slices from each tumour bearing animal which can each be used for conducting multiple analyses. This approach requires far fewer animals to be set-up initially to generate sufficient tissue on which the drug testing can be conducted.

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