ERC: Europe is looking to Jean-Louis Viovy to “weave” the oncology of the future
A weaving loom in a biomedical research laboratory? Not what you would expect, but this machine produces a textile that could help further the search for new therapeutic strategies and personalized medicine.
Jean-Louis Viovy, researcher emeritus in the Physico-Chimie Curie Lab, has just received the go-ahead from the European Research Council to provide “proof of concept” for this new technique. Emeritus Director of research at the Physico-Chimie Curie Lab at the Research Center (UMR 168 CNRS/Institut Curie), Jean-Louis Viovy has designed a fabric on which researchers could test a number of treatment combinations in parallel, very quickly and at a reasonable cost compared with current techniques. Following early tests with a small weaving loom in the laboratory, he turned to the École nationale supérieure des arts et industries textiles (Ensait) in Roubaix to put the finishing touches to this complex fabric, made from several different materials.
The fabric is perforated through its entire thickness with micro-channels in which researchers can run droplets containing several dozens of cancerous cells taken from patients. These small clusters of cells are then cultivated until they form “tumoroids”, which are tumors in the early stages of development containing only a few thousand cells and mimicking the three-dimensional organization of a tumor. We can then place each tumoroid with another droplet containing a treatment taken from a broad “library”, to determine which are most effective
Until now these types of studies could only be performed on two-dimensional cultured cells - which produced unreliable results - or on animal models, which is time-consuming, costly and ethically questionable, therefore alternatives were sought.
The fabric is now fully developed and Jean-Louis Viovy has a 150,000-euro grant - received through the highly selective “Proof of Concept”* call for projects from the European Research Council (ERC) - and 18 months to continue with his work and demonstrate that the procedure is effective for testing treatments, and reliable on an industrial scale. The work involves perfecting the so-called “microfluidic” techniques needed to make this type of system work, and seeing whether the system can measure the development, stagnation and regression of tumoroids according to the treatments applied. In this venture Jean-Louis Viovy can rely on the microfluidics platform at the Institut Pierre-Gilles de Gennes (IPGG)*, founded jointly by Institut Curie, and its director Catherine Villard for the biophysical and technological aspects, and on Dr. Olivier Delattre and Didier Surdez, from the Cancer, Heterogeneity, Instability and Plasticity unit at Institut Curie Research Center for the clinical aspects.
This very selective grant is once again proof of the remarkable performance of Institut Curie researchers, since out of the nine French winners selected in this call for projects, two are won by researchers working at the Research Center.
* IPGG comes from 4 top-flight research institution : Institut Curie, ESPCI Paris, ENS and Chimie ParisTech, all members of the université PSL