Cell mates: This microfluidics chip (top) contains 1,536 minute wells, each designed to force contact between two fluorescently labeled cells. An immune cell and a tumor cell are forced into contact inside a single well of a microfluidics chip (bottom). The setup allows researchers to identify, isolate, and study immune cells with particularly potent anticancer characteristics.
Credit: COCHISE Project
European researchers have built a microfluidic biosensor that traps single immune cells together with single tumor cells, allowing the researchers to pick the most potent of these cancer killers out of a crowded field.
The project, called Cell On CHIp bioSEnsor (COCHISE), was initiated by microsystems engineer Roberto Guerrieri at the University of Bologna, Italy. Guerrieri noticed that immunologists had no way to identify and isolate those rare immune cells, or lymphocytes, with antitumor properties--only about one in every 1,000 immune cells has such properties.
Together with postdoctoral researcher Massimo Bocchi, Guerrieri created a microfluidics platform with an array of 1,536 microwells. In each well, electric fields force contact between a fluorescently labeled tumor cell and a labeled immune cell. An automated system then scans the array and detects wells in which the tumor cell's color has disappeared, thereby identifying the lymphocytes that are likely most effective against the leukemia and lymphoma cancers they tested.
As far as the biosensor is concerned, "the design itself is not really new," says Luke Lee, director of the Biomolecular Nanotechnology Center at the University of California at Berkeley. Others have developed similar designs, although Lee notes that none are as user-friendly as the COCHISE system. Unlike the other devices, Lee says, the biosensor devised by Guerrieri and Bocchi and their collaborators offers a way to cleanly deliver cells to the chip and manipulate them.