New Biochip Provides a Variety of Cancer Benefits by Working With a Patient’s Immune System

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers develop a method of testing over 300 permutations of patient-specific cancer treatments in as little as two days

Hospital leaders and oncology directors should be aware of a new, promising tool in providing precision medicine cancer treatments that support individual patients’ immune systems. This personalized biochip, the result of research by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, can be used with a variety of cancers, helping clinicians to understand what therapies can be combined with a patient’s natural immune system to provide the best chance of survival.

Published in Communications Biology, Rensselaer researchers have developed a method of growing cancer cells from individual patients in a way that allows for testing in a more realistic environment than traditional methods. The technology not only provides a promising method of precision medicine testing for a variety of cancers, but also provides a rapid, scalable method for this testing.

The technology uses a two-part biochip that is about the size of a microscope slide. Cancer cells from a biopsy are applied to a gel that mimics the cancer’s normal environment, allowing it to grow in spheroid shapes like it does in the body. Many current methods of growing cancer cells in labs provide a 2D tumor representation, causing the artificial tumors to react differently to treatments than they would in their natural 3D shape.

Hundreds of Treatment Options Tested

The biochip contains 330 microscopic sections and enables clinicians or researchers to test combinations of medications and treatments on a single sample. This precision medicine approach offers the opportunity of running numerous treatment permutations on a specific patient’s cancer, optimizing treatments in ways that would never be possible by experimenting on different options with the patient themselves.

This biochip also allows a quick and efficient method of testing. “This whole platform really gives us a way to optimize personalized immunotherapy on a rapid, high throughput scale,” said Jonathan Dordick, PhD, in a news release by Rensselaer. As lead researcher on this project, Dordick is also an Institute Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and member of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

“You can imagine somebody having cancer, and you quickly biopsy the tumor and then you use this biochip platform to identify very quickly—within a day or two—what specific treatment modality might be ideally suited against a particular cancer,” Dordick explained.

onathan Dordick, PhD (left), and Deepak Vashishth, PhD (right), explain findings of biochip research at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Jonathan Dordick, PhD (left), and Deepak Vashishth, PhD (right), explain findings of biochip research at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. (Photos: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

One early and surprising finding by Rensselaer researchers using this new technology was that a toxic chemotherapeutic agent worked well against several cancer samples when combined with a monoclonal antibody drug and human immune cells called natural killer (NK) cells. This finding was made possible because of the number of samples tested and the more natural environment created by the biochip.

“You can screen very quickly to determine what combinations of NK cells, antibodies, and chemotherapeutic drugs target the cancer cells within the spheroid geometry,” Dordick said. “What really is amazing is we see very significant differences between what happens in that spheroid, within the slots of the chip, versus what would happen in a more traditional two-dimensional cell culture that’s often used in the screening.”

Biochip Technology Opens More Precision Medicine Options

This research from Rensselaer builds on the emerging organ-on-a-chip concept. This technology combines concepts from cell biology, biomaterial technology, and engineering to create a 3D setting that stimulates the natural environment of an organ to allow for biological testing.

Organ-on-a-chip technology is a new and promising field that has, so far, primarily been used to research more general treatment approaches. The use of a biochip to recreate patient-specific tumors, however, indicates promising potential applications for precision medicine.

“This platform moves researchers closer to personalized medicine,” said Deepak Vashishth, PhD, director of CBIS, in a statement.

Hospitals that provide oncology treatments may want to further investigate biochip technology. By providing patients with the ability to have their treatments tailored to their physiology and immune systems, oncologists will be able to stand out from their competitors and provide the best care possible for their patients.

Related Information:

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

3D tumor spheroid microarray for high-throughput, high-content natural killer cell-mediated cytotoxicity

Jonathan Dordick, PhD

Rensselaer-Designed Platform Could Enable Personalized Immunotherapy

Introduction to Organs-on-a-Chip

Deepak Vashishth, PhD

A 3-D Tumor Microenvironment for Personalized Immunotherapy

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