Microfluidic Device Tracks Long-term Evolution of Cancer Cells to Gain Insight into Metastasis

Device may reveal how to stop cancer cells from spreading.

A novel microfluidic device can cultivate cancer cells for longer periods of time than current models, allowing scientists to track the long-term evolution of metastasis.

Cancer cells only last a few days in current microfluidic devices, but the characteristics of cancer cells change over time.

In a study published in Scientific Reports, investigators sought to develop a device designed to help identify early aggressors, understand how they are different from the rest of the cells, and if there is a way to stop them from spreading.

“A lot of tumor processes like invasion and resistance don’t happen overnight,” said lead author Koh Meng Aw Yong, PhD. “Our goal was to track the long-term evolution of invasion. We cannot look at just a certain time point, like in a 3-day experiment. That might not represent what’s happening in the body overtime.”

The 3D tumoroid culture model consists of 3 tiny molded channels through which the cells are fed through 1 channel while the fluid flows through a second channel. This parallel channel allows for minimal disturbance or changes to the cells. Meanwhile, the flow of fluid through the outer channel mimics the process in the body’s capillaries.

“These forces are important and incorporate everything into one system,” Aw Kong mentioned.

To test the device, the investigators used 2 lines of metastatic prostate cancer cells. The cells that broke off first and would spread to distant organs were isolated. At week 2, the cells from 1 line were twice as invasive as the other cell line.

By week 3, the difference dissipated, suggesting the potential of these invasive leader cells may change over time, according to the study.

“Preliminary analysis of the invasion front indicated an association with cell proliferation and higher expression of growth differentiation factor 15,” the authors wrote.

They added that the device has the potential to deliver more personalized medicine for patients.

“This device also holds potential to be used to test drugs and detect when cancer becomes resistant,” said senior author Jianping Fu, PhD. “This would allow oncologists to know sooner if a therapy is not working, and perhaps switch the patient to another option. Of course, more research is needed to explore this possibility in the future.”

Aw Yong added, “We think we can grow this while the patient is undergoing treatment or monitoring. The device would be able to show us if the cells become more aggressive before a traditional imaging test would detect anything.”

The investigators hope to continue their research in the triple-negative breast cancer space.