Microfluidics: Emerging prospects for anti-cancer drug screening

World J Clin Oncol. 2010 Nov 10;1(1):18-23. doi: 10.5306/wjco.v1.i1.18.


Cancer constitutes a heterogenic cellular system with a high level of spatio-temporal complexity. Recent discoveries by systems biologists have provided emerging evidence that cellular responses to anti-cancer modalities are stochastic in nature. To uncover the intricacies of cell-to-cell variability and its relevance to cancer therapy, new analytical screening technologies are needed. The last decade has brought forth spectacular innovations in the field of cytometry and single cell cytomics, opening new avenues for systems oncology and high-throughput real-time drug screening routines. The up-and-coming microfluidic Lab-on-a-Chip (LOC) technology and micro-total analysis systems (μTAS) are arguably the most promising platforms to address the inherent complexity of cellular systems with massive experimental parallelization and 4D analysis on a single cell level. The vast miniaturization of LOC systems and multiplexing enables innovative strategies to reduce drug screening expenditures while increasing throughput and content of information from a given sample. Small cell numbers and operational reagent volumes are sufficient for microfluidic analyzers and, as such, they enable next generation high-throughput and high-content screening of anti-cancer drugs on patient-derived specimens. Herein we highlight the selected advancements in this emerging field of bioengineering, and provide a snapshot of developments with relevance to anti-cancer drug screening routines.

Keywords: Anti-cancer drugs; Cancer; Cancer therapy; Cytometry; Cytomics; Drug screening; Lab-on-a-chip; Microfluidics.