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IMAGE: This is a microfluidic device in the Merten lab. view more 

Credit: IMAGE – Ramesh Utharala, EMBL

Combinations of cancer drugs can be quickly and cheaply tested on tumour cells using a novel device developed by EMBL scientists. The research, reported in Nature Communications on June 22, marks the latest advancement in the field of personalised medicine.

Using a microfluidic device that fits in the palm of your hand, scientists screened over 1100 treatment conditions (56 drug combinations x 20 replicates) on patient tumour cells. In the future, such tests could be used to inform clinicians on safe and effective combinations of cancer treatments. This research, incorporating fundamental science alongside clinical expertise at Aachen University Hospital, was led by EMBL group leader Christoph Merten and Julio Saez-Rodriguez, former group leader at EMBL-EBI and now Professor at Heidelberg University.

Small biopsies, many drugs

Directly testing multiple cancer drugs on biopsies – parts of the tumour which have been taken from a patient – is a powerful way to discover which drugs work best, and for whom. This is because depending on the specific tumour characteristics, cancer therapies can be more effective in some people than others. However, large-scale patient

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