A 3D microfluidic model for preclinical evaluation of TCR-engineered T cells against solid tumors

JCI Insight. 2017 Jun 15;2(12):e89762. doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.89762.


The tumor microenvironment imposes physical and functional constraints on the antitumor efficacy of adoptive T cell immunotherapy. Preclinical testing of different T cell preparations can help in the selection of efficient immune therapies, but in vivo models are expensive and cumbersome to develop, while classical in vitro 2D models cannot recapitulate the spatiotemporal dynamics experienced by T cells targeting cancer. Here, we describe an easily customizable 3D model, in which the tumor microenvironment conditions are modulated and the functionality of different T cell preparations is tested. We incorporate human cancer hepatocytes as a single cell or as tumor cell aggregates in a 3D collagen gel region of a microfluidic device. Human T cells engineered to express tumor-specific T cell receptors (TCR-T cells) are then added in adjacent channels. The TCR-T cells' ability to migrate and kill the tumor target and the profile of soluble factors were investigated under conditions of varying oxygen levels and in the presence of inflammatory cytokines. We show that only the 3D model detects the effect that oxygen levels and the inflammatory environment impose on engineered TCR-T cell function, and we also used the 3D microdevice to analyze the TCR-T cell efficacy in an immunosuppressive scenario. Hence, we show that our microdevice platform enables us to decipher the factors that can alter T cell function in 3D and can serve as a preclinical assay to tailor the most efficient immunotherapy configuration for a specific therapeutic goal.

Keywords: Immunology; Therapeutics.