Pump-prime Projects

Design of a microfluidics device for studies of breast cancer metastasis and tissue-resident macrophages induced niche priming

Status: Completed
Principal Investigator:
Award round: 3
Start date: 01-04-2021
End date: 31-07-2021
Contract amount: £24,000
PDFInitial project report


Breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer amongst women. Yet, patients don’t die due to the primary disease, but due to cancer spreading around the body. For breast cancer those secondary or metastatic tumours develop in lungs, bone, liver or brain. Despite careful studies we still don’t know how cancer cells decide where they will migrate to and grow these tumours.

One of the major factors that make it so difficult to predict cancer spread and why some therapies are ineffective is tumour heterogeneity. This characteristic of a tumour describes its complex composition. A tumour consists of not only one sub-population with specific changes in the genetic code (mutations), but of many. We recently developed a breast cancer model that addresses the issue of heterogeneity. Now, we want to go a step further and find out which sub-population of cancer cells will be spreading and infiltrate distant tissues. Moreover, we want to concentrate on the role of white blood cells within those distant tissues, which are called macrophages and normally help the body to fight inflammation. However, during tumour development macrophages are shown to have a tumour promoting role in the primary tumour but their function in distant tissues is less explored as usually animal models would be needed for those studies.

Our study aims to provide an alternative for animal models, that could deliver a robust way of metastatic
site analysis and show insights into metastatic cell communication with its unfamiliar surroundings. We aim to evolve our model to be as close as possible to a body-on-a-chip, where we can follow cancer cell spread and growth. We will build this device that will combine a biologically complex 3D model of breast cancer with 3D models of miniature organs and connect them with a flow system, which simplifies blood flow. Therefore, a multidisciplinary collaboration will begin to develop this novel tool to better study metastasis.