A team of experts from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of the University of Barcelona and the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) 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).
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 Letai —Professor 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.
Now, 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.
When a biopsy is received, the sample is dissociated to obtain individual cells using mechanical and enzymatic treatments. Once processed, the sample is filtered to obtain individual cells which are then subjected to the desired treatments and seeded in the microfluidic device.
The paper published in the journal npj Precision Oncology is the first to apply microfluidics to perform the functional assay of the DBP. Unlike other versions developed so far, such as the high-throughput DBP (Bhola et al., Science Signaling, 2020) with automated plates and dispensers to test hundreds of treatments, the new μDBP device is aimed at testing treatments in situ in a very fast, simple and automated way, without needing expensive machinery or specialised staff.