Precision cancer medicine seeks to target the underlying genetic alterations of cancer; however, it has been challenging to use genetic profiles of individual patients in identifying the most appropriate anti-cancer drugs. This spurred the development of patient avatars; for example, patient-derived xenografts (PDXs) established in mice and used for drug exposure studies. However, PDXs are associated with high cost, long development time and low efficiency of engraftment. Herein we explored the use of microfluidic devices or microchambers as simple and low-cost means of maintaining bladder cancer cells over extended periods of times in order to study patterns of drug responsiveness and resistance. When placed into 75 μm tall microfluidic chambers, cancer cells grew as ellipsoids reaching millimeter-scale dimeters over the course of 30 days in culture. We cultured three PDX and three clinical patient specimens with 100% success rate. The turn-around time for a typical efficacy study using microchambers was less than 10 days. Importantly, PDX-derived ellipsoids in microchambers retained patterns of drug responsiveness and resistance observed in PDX mice and also exhibited in vivo-like heterogeneity of tumor responses. Overall, this study establishes microfluidic cultures of difficult-to-maintain primary cancer cells as a useful tool for precision cancer medicine.
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