Scientists develop novel cancer cell culture test kit for personalised, precise cancer therapy

April 3, 2018, National University of Singapore
Professor Lim Chwee Teck and his team from the Mechanobiology Institute and Department of Biomedical Engineering at the National University of Singapore developed a novel cancer cell-based assay that could help clinicians diagnose cancer, monitor the disease state and customise drug therapies for individual patients. Credit: National University of Singapore

A team of scientists led by Professor Lim Chwee Teck, Principal Investigator at the Mechanobiology Institute, Singapore (MBI) and the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and NUS Ph.D. graduate Dr. Khoo Bee Luan, has developed a novel and robust cancer cell-based assay that could help clinicians to diagnose cancer, monitor the disease state and customise drug therapies for each individual patient.

The NUS-developed microfluidic device, which allows for precise control of fluids at the submillimetre scale, cultures circulating (CTCs) collected from a patient's blood, and grows the CTC clusters in its microwells. CTCs are cells that break away from the primary tumour and are carried around the body in the blood circulatory system. They can be obtained from a simple blood draw, also known as a .

Assessment of the CTCs can provide information about a patient's cancer, rather than through highly invasive and painful tumour tissue biopsy. As these tumour cell clusters can closely mimic that of a patient's tumour, different anticancer drugs can be tested on the clusters to determine the most effective treatment for the patient.

Liquid biopsy, which involves scanning the blood for CTCs, is the new wave in cancer screening. The assessment of CTCs can provide real-time information about a patient's cancer and liquid biopsies can substitute current methods for detection and evaluation of cancer.

"Imaging techniques suffer from limitations in resolution that can lead to false-negative results. Tumour biopsies involve highly invasive procedures that can cause great discomfort and can also be expensive. Hence, tissue biopsies are generally used as a diagnostic tool only before and after cancer treatment. In contrast, the evaluation of CTCs from liquid biopsies can provide regular, ongoing information for assessing metastatic risk, prognosis and treatment efficacy," said Prof Lim, who is also Acting Director of BIGHEART (Biomedical Institute for Global Health Research and Technology) at NUS.

CTCs comprise many sub-populations and are very difficult to detect. Owing to this rarity, the population of CTCs needs to be expanded before they can be used for clinical analysis. Conventional CTC expansion techniques take about six months or longer. The microfluidic device developed by the NUS team promotes CTC cluster formation within two weeks, with an overall cluster formation success rate of over 50 per cent which is twice higher than the current methods. Hence, patients could receive screening results faster.

Using the device, doctors could test a range of drugs on the cultured tumour cell clusters to determine the ones that could effectively attack the cancer cells of a patient. The device also enables two or more drugs, at various concentrations, to be tested concurrently. This approach will facilitate the development of personalised therapies, tailored to meet the different needs of each patient.

"Doctors are increasingly aware that a "trial and error" or "one size fits all" approach is not suitable for cancer treatment. This practice is inefficient and frequently results in inappropriate therapy and problematic side effects. In contrast, personalised treatment, tailored to the individual patient's cancer type and progression, has the potential to increase efficacy and decrease toxicity. A critical advantage of our approach is its potential to predict a patient's response to therapeutic treatment by performing tests on their own cells," Prof Lim explained.

Clinical collaborator of the project, Dr. Lee Soo Chin from the National University Cancer Institute, Singapore, said, "We are excited that this novel approach has the potential for translation into a hospital setting as prior approaches for growing had low efficiency, required extensive periods for culture establishment, or compromised quality of the due to pre-enrichment. This device will provide a cost-effective and less-invasive means of routine monitoring of disease progression. The CTCs can be collected at various time points to determine which treatment would be most beneficial for the patient."

A research paper describing the team's work was published in Nature Protocols in January 2018.

Explore further: Developing the VTX-1 liquid biopsy system: Fast and label-free enrichment of circulating tumor cells

More information: Bee Luan Khoo et al. Expansion of patient-derived circulating tumor cells from liquid biopsies using a CTC microfluidic culture device, Nature Protocols (2017). DOI: 10.1038/nprot.2017.125

Related Stories

Developing the VTX-1 liquid biopsy system: Fast and label-free enrichment of circulating tumor cells

January 22, 2018
A new article in the February 2018 issue of SLAS Technology describes a new platform that could change the way cancer is diagnosed and treated by automating the isolation of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) directly from cancer ...

New technique efficiently captures and grows tumour cells to guide selection of drug therapy

December 1, 2015
Scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed a novel technique to efficiently culture clusters containing circulating tumour cells (CTCs) in 14 days that could be used to predict the outcome of ...

'Liquid biopsy' offers new way to track lung cancer

June 3, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Scientists have shown how a lung cancer patient's blood sample could be used to monitor and predict their response to treatment – paving the way for personalised medicine for the disease.

Circulating tumor cells associated with relapse in late-stage melanoma patients

November 7, 2017
A study revealing a connection between circulating tumor cells (CTCs) and relapse in stage IV melanoma patients points to liquid biopsy as a potential predictor of patients at high risk for disease progression. CTCs, tumor ...

Recommended for you

Researchers use computer model to predict prostate cancer progression

December 12, 2018
An international team of cancer researchers from Denmark and Germany have used cancer patient data to develop a computer model that can predict the progression of prostate cancer. The model is currently being implemented ...

Pushing closer to a new cancer-fighting strategy

December 11, 2018
A molecular pathway that's frequently mutated in many different forms of cancer becomes active when cells push parts of their membranes outward into bulging protrusions, Johns Hopkins researchers report in a new study. The ...

Scientists have identified and modelled a distinct biology for paediatric AML

December 11, 2018
Scientists have identified and modelled a distinct biology for paediatric acute myeloid leukaemia, one of the major causes of death in children.

HER2 mutations can cause treatment resistance in metastatic ER-positive breast cancer

December 11, 2018
Metastatic breast cancers treated with hormone therapy can become treatment-resistant when they acquire mutations in the human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) that were not present in the original tumor, reports ...

Loss of two genes drives a deadly form of colorectal cancer, reveals a potential treatment

December 11, 2018
Colorectal cancers arise from earlier growths, called polyps, found on the inner surface of the colon. Scientists are now learning that polyps use two distinct molecular pathways as they progress to cancer, called the "conventional" ...

Successful anti-PD-1 therapy requires interaction between CD8+ T cells and dendritic cells

December 11, 2018
A team led by a Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigator has found that successful cancer immunotherapy targeting the PD-1 molecule requires interaction between cytotoxic CD8+ T cells, which have been considered ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.