Chip lined with human cells tests cancer drug delivery with minimal cost

A chip uses an etched surface and human cells to test cancer drug delivery in a realistic environment.--Courtesy of Lehigh U.

With an inexpensive chip just a few inches long, researchers have come up with a way to see what cancer drugs will do in specific patients by mimicking the way human capillaries carry them in the body. This way, it can be possible to fine-tune the drugs' targeting mechanisms before conducting pricey, invasive lab tests.

The researchers at Lehigh University--a mechanical engineer, a biologist and a physicist--came up with the chip to find a middle ground between invasive chemotherapy treatments and inconclusive lab tests that investigate the drugs' effects on individual cells as opposed to the whole body, according to a university report. The chip is etched with channels shaped like human capillaries, and the scientists lay human cells across the surface to test the drugs as they move across the chip. By creating an environment similar to what the drug will encounter in the human body, researchers can track the way they target cancer cells and deliver a payload.

The chip is made from a polymer, and the etches are designed by a computer to resemble blood vessels in the lung with differing sizes, from that of an artery to that of the smallest capillary. And it also stretches like a lung to add another layer of realism to the testing.

To test certain drugs, the scientists use a nanoparticle loaded with the compound, an antibody for targeting and a fluorescent for imaging. The researchers then collect 3-D pictures of the entire chip to find out exactly what the nanoparticles are doing and how they deliver the drugs within the environment of the chip, and thus, conceptually, how they would in the human body.

And at the cost of less than $1 per chip, the testing platform could be widely used.

"We can measure the distribution of nanoparticles in the microfluidic channels of the chip," said team member Daniel Ou-Yang as quoted in the report. "Because the particles are moving, we do a time average of their motions in the channel to see where the particles are going and where they are attaching."

The researchers hope to make the chip an even better testing environment for drugs by layering porous membranes on the surface, allowing them to gauge the metastatic properties and migration of cancer cells across blood vessels.

- here's the Lehigh University report