Fighting cancer metastasis efficiently remains a challenge in the oncology field. Metastasis involves a sequence of events in which malignant cells from a primary tumour invade the surrounding tissues by entering the blood circulation and spreading to other organs. Once cancer is spread, disease management is more complicated and patient survival decreases significantly. This issue is very relevant in colorectal cancer, the second most common cancer in humans, since it is estimated that approximately 50 % of patients develop metastasis, and most of them already have metastatic disease at the time of their first diagnosis.
The project PROMISE, funded by “La Caixa” Foundation, aims to provide clinicians with better tools to understand, diagnose and monitor metastatic colorectal cancer patients, which will help develop and select better therapeutic approaches.
Researchers are working on the development of an innovative platform that mimics the main features of the tumour microenvironment in humans. This device is bioprinted, forming a 3D cell-laden hydrogel system resembling a vascularised tumour and its surrounding tissue (stroma), which will be connected to microfluidic pumps to resemble blood circulation in the tumour.
Using this organ-on-a-chip device, it is possible to recreate the tumour microenvironment and allows the study of key events in metastasis, such as the intravasation and extravasation mechanisms of tumour cells, the invasiveness potential of circulating tumour cells, as well as their specificity towards preferred organs.
These data will be correlated with the patient’s molecular profile and disease stage and might reveal relevant information about the underlying mechanisms of metastasis. The transformative approach relies on combining state-of-the-art techniques in microfluidics, biofabrication, biomaterials, liquid biopsy, and cancer genetics in a powerful, but a feasible platform. Ultimately, PROMISE expects to expand our knowledge about cancer metastasis and contribute towards predicting the best treatment option for each patient, and provide a reliable tool for the development and testing of new therapeutic approaches.