Project Group Meeting, Bristol, May 2019 – Day 2

Yet another day of sunshine accompanied the second day of the EVO-NANO project meeting (a blessed relief from the last 5 months of cold and rain). The groups from ProChimia, Vall d’Hebron Research Institute and IMDEA all joined in for the last day of discussion and updates on how the project will proceed for the rest of the year. Across the day we were live-tweeting out images and thoughts on the @evo_nano feed.

After a brief recap of yesterday’s computational brainstorming session, we moved into talking about the microfluidic systems that are being built to mimic a cancer system in vitro, known as tumour-on-a-chip devices. These are intended to allow for studying how nanoparticles interact with layers or spheres of cells at physiologically relevant scales, down to the order of tens of microns. IMDEA is working on how to arrange cells from a blood vessel onto a microfluidic channel, which will show how injected nanoparticles might cross from a capillary into a tumour mass; while we at University of Bristol are working on observing the flow of nanoparticle solutions through a gel that mimics the extracellular matrix, which will eventually be tuned to contain tumour cells.

Next, we had Petra from Vall d’Hebron deliver a full-on lecture on the work that she and her colleagues had done on cancer stem cells, and how they are attempting to make therapies that target them specifically. CSC’s are resistant to many treaments, and as a result drive recurrence and metastasis. Normal cancer cells can revert to CSC’s when stressed, in order to prolong the life of the tumour – so they are one of the highest-priority targets in cancer treatment. Petra then weathered the barrage of questions from the audience, who wanted to pick her brain for all the data she could offer for plugging into the simulation and on-chip testing platforms… congratulations are in order for surviving it.

To wrap up, we heard from the chemists from ProChimia about the different gold nanoparticles they were contributing to the project. A set of two anti-cancer drugs were decided upon as the first candidates for real-world testing (in vitro and in vivo), and much discussion occurred around how the particles would behave under flow and when interacting with cells. The biologists were very interested in the water solubility of the particles and how the dosage of the drugs would come into contact with the cells, while the microfluidics people were all about the possibility of fluorescent tagging for visualization.

The day ended with a group photo (generously taken by a student from the next room over) and polishing off the cake from the catering. A grand time was had by all and we all look forward to the next in-person meeting, most likely in Brussels, Belgium. The different groups definitely began to ‘learn the language’ of the cross-disciplinary team as a whole, and we all left with a better understanding of each other’s research to work towards our common goal.

EVO-NANO, Bristol, May 2019