Associate professor, Alison McGuigan, has been using her set of skills in microfabrication and disease modeling to better predict how well upcoming medications will work in patients.
McGuigan’s team that consists of graduate, undergrad, and high school students are the winner of this year’s $125,000 Connaught Fund McLean Award. The Connaught review committee felt her work is making “significant progress towards one of the most difficult and important goals in biological engineering.”
The award stems from a one-million-dollar gift from William F. McLean, one of the alumni of the university, donated over two decades ago. The award is geared to support research of outstanding early career researchers in physics, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, engineering sciences, or the theory and methods of statistics.
“I am tremendously excited about receiving the McLean Award,” McGuigan said, “as it will give my team an opportunity to engineer our platforms to the next level and attempt to model some of the more complex aspects of cancer biology that drive disease progression clinically.”
The Connaught review committee noted that the information generated by the research team has the potential to “advance understanding of tissue development, tumour biology, and cancer treatment”, while “enabling new approaches to surgery, regenerative medicine, and drug treatment.”
Roughly sixty percent of drug failures in Phase III clinical trials occur because the drug has proven ineffective to patients. The cells are unable to grow and react the same as an average cancer cell in 2D tests, and provide less than ideal accuracy.
A malignant cell in the centre of a tumour has less access to oxygen and nutrients than those growing near the surface, as well as growing in a three-dimensional form. These variables make replication of body-like cells difficult in a laboratory petri dish.
McGuigan and her team have created 3D sheets that act like human cancer cells that are grown outside the body in a laboratory to combat this issue. The 3D sheets can be monitored and imaged over time with the same equipment as the 2D tests.
“Right now, we’re at the stage where we can assemble cultures that better mimic the conditions in the human body so we can try to understand how cells are behaving in diseased people,” she explains. “These platforms are ways to find new, interesting targets for drug therapies.”
The data gathered from the 3D sheets could offer invaluable information to scientists for assessment of promising new drug therapies and classification of the effectiveness of the products.
Recently, McGuigan has begun work with MaRS Innovation and is looking for a way to break ground in the commercialism of the 3D sheets.