Pre-clinical screening technology could increase cancer test numbers by 50 times

A new screening tool developed at the University of Strathclyde could increase the number of tests on a solid tumour sample by up to 50 times. The study also involved researchers at the University of Glasgow and the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute in Glasgow.

The study has developed a miniaturised platform for screening 3D tumour models to evaluate the toxicity of CAR-T therapy towards cells. The platform enables visualisation and quantification of how CAR-T cells, when rapidly targeted, brake up and kill cancer cells without causing significant harm to other cells.

The latest immunotherapies – including Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy – are effective against many haematological cancers but present challenges when used to treat solid tumours.

Traditional 2D models fail to reproduce the complexity of the tumour’s microenvironment, while models based on patients’ tumours are costly and labour-intensive. In contrast, 3D models reproduce a much more accurate account of what happens in the body.

Furthermore, the University of Strathclyde research found that, while chemotherapy treatment did not act specifically on cancer cells when used alone, treatment efficacy was enhanced when combined with CAR-T cell treatment.

The research was led by Dr Michele Zagnoni, a reader in Strathclyde’s Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering. She explained: “There are particular challenges with evaluating solid tumours, not just cancerous cells but those surrounding them. We are developing a technology platform which could accelerate the development of therapies and provide models which are much more representative of what happens in the body than what is currently available.

“We are providing a platform for labs to conduct tests before proceeding to clinical trials, that uses fewer resources and can scale up cost effectively. CAR-T cell development is expensive and patient-derived tissue is a limited resource. Our aim is to enable 20 to 50 times more experiments to be performed in these conditions.”