Analytical and Laboratory

New Imaging Platform Detects Cancer Cell’s Drug Resistance within 24 Hours

16 April 2018

A team of scientists from Virginia Commonwealth University's Massey Cancer Center and UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center have created a microscopy platform that measures a cancer cell’s resistance to drugs. This new platform scans cancer cells ten times faster than the technology currently used. This could allow doctors and researchers to find the right treatment for cancer patients.

Assessment of tumor sensitivity to the drugs currently available for cancer patients improves the outcomes of the drugs because it allows the doctors to be one step ahead of the cancer cell — now they know what therapies the cell is resistant to.

Quantitative phase imaging is typically used to measure the individual growth of cells in response to various medicines and therapies. But it is limited to a smaller sample size, therefore making it difficult to find what exactly the cancer cells are responding to as a whole.

This is an HLSCI image of live melanoma cells colored to indicate the distribution of mass within each cell. (Source: VCU Massey Cancer Center)This is an HLSCI image of live melanoma cells colored to indicate the distribution of mass within each cell. (Source: VCU Massey Cancer Center)

The new platform developed is called High-Speed Live-Cell Interferometry (HSLCI). HSLCI is a novel, multi-sample and multidrug testing system that can quickly measure the tumor response to any therapy. HSLCI monitors cell growth over time, as well as the individual growth of 1,000 to 10,000 cells in one experiment.

Other studies could only measure the 60 cells per hour. HSLCI can track cells for over five days, while past methods can only track cells for around 48 hours.

"Our platform can detect effective versus ineffective drugs in patient-derived cells in a matter of hours, more than 10 times faster than the current standard. This speed and accuracy make HSLCI the first implementation of quantitative phase microscopy with the throughput required for a tool to guide patient therapy selection," said Kevin Leslie, M.S., a lead author of the study and Ph.D. candidate in VCU's Integrative Life Sciences program.

During the initial study, the HSLCI models were applied to metastatic melanoma, which has been difficult to track in the past due to drug resistance and tumor diversity. Currently, there are no reliable cellular biomarkers that guide melanoma therapy or improve patient outcome predictions with measuring drug response. Measuring drug response can take a long time to process.

"A superior, rapid, accurate and inexpensive approach to determine melanoma drug sensitivity before — and periodically during — therapy is desirable," said Reed, an associate professor of physics at VCU.

Reed designed a new platform with industrial-grade imaging hardware, low-cost, multi-core PC processors and more software improvements, creating the HSLCI. HSLCI takes images of standard-format and multi-well cell culture plates where each well can hold a different cell type, exposed to a unique drug dose or combo. It allows for non-invasive measurements of single cells and cell clusters.

The HSLCI differentiated between thousands of drug-sensitive and drug-resistant melanoma cells in 24 hours.

"HSLCI could be used throughout all forms of cancer therapy to evaluate the efficacy of treatment. This assessment could ensure all cancer patients are receiving the most effective drugs for their disease," Reed said.

The paper on this research was presented at the American Association for Cancer Research’s Annual Meeting in Chicago.

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