Development of a novel lung-on-a-chip platform to investigate breast cancer metastasis

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, and whilst knowledge and treatments are improving, it’s still not fully understood how breast cancer cells are able to spread around the body, or ‘metastasise’. Often, this can be into the lungs, which can be extremely difficult to treat and sadly for many women, proves fatal. At present, models that study the spread of breast cancer include animals that don’t faithfully represent the human disease or cells grown in petri-dishes in 2D which doesn’t reflect cells in the body in a 3D environment. As a result, these models are either too complex to unravel the step-by-step changes or limited by their lack of complexity. My research aims to create a 3D model of a lung using a system that combines biology, instrumentation and software apps. This technology will allow us to realistically recreate both the mechanical and biological sides of metastasis, taking us a step closer to a greater understanding of how this disease works, and how to prevent it. By developing a more realistic cancer model, we will learn more about why breast cancer spreads to the lungs and other parts of the body. This could help accelerate the development of new drugs and help NHS design personalised care plans for patients with secondary breast cancer.

The Human Emulation System is an integrated platform that combines biology (Organ-chip), instrumentation, and software apps. The integrated software apps provide users with an application to help plan, execute, and manage experiments with the system. Emulate’s state-of-the-art organ-chip platform will be used for fundamental research and possibly as part of a drug discovery pipeline. Thus, this system provides a robust, well characterised, and reliable platform on which to develop new organ models of the researchers choosing. The system allows for the use of commercially ready-to-use Organ-chips technology for more translational research. Therefore, this lung-on-chip preliminary data would help support further research to complete proof-of-concept experiments to validate the idea. Making it possible to develop a prototype/protocol for testing outwit our lab using patient tissue. Such as system can help in the advancement of breast cancer research and biomarker identification.

The Human Emulation System is a versatile microfluidics system that can be used to adapt to any cancer tissue, which can be used as a platform for translational opportunity. The system can generate the vacuum required to apply organ-chip stretching and flow rate similar to what is seen in the human lungs when breathing. Moreover, this system could be used to develop a service for drug testing.  Microfluidic tools hold great promise in cancer diagnosis. Studies have demonstrated that it serves as an emerging tool for understanding the biology of cancer and the detection of cancer cells. Identified biomarkers could help provide appropriate testing (i.e., in cancer research, diagnosis, and therapy) that allows early-stage interventions, reducing late-stage healthcare expenditure in cancer patients and the NHS.