Theranostics 2022; 12(8):3628-3636. doi:10.7150/thno.71761 This issue

Research Paper

Evaluation of cancer immunotherapy using mini-tumor chips

Zheng Ao1, Hongwei Cai1, Zhuhao Wu1, Liya Hu1, Xiang Li1, Connor Kaurich1, Mingxia Gu2,3,4, Liang Cheng5,7, Xin Lu6,7, Feng Guo1,7✉

1. Department of Intelligent Systems Engineering, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, United States
2. Perinatal Institute, Division of Pulmonary Biology, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH 45229, United States
3. Center for Stem Cell and Organoid Medicine, CuSTOM, Division of Developmental Biology, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH 45229, United States
4. University of Cincinnati School of Medicine, Cincinnati, OH 45229, United States
5. Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN 46202, United States
6. Department of Biological Sciences, Boler-Parseghian Center for Rare and Neglected Diseases, Harper Cancer Research Institute, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556, United States
7. Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, Indianapolis, IN 46202, United States

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( See for full terms and conditions.
Ao Z, Cai H, Wu Z, Hu L, Li X, Kaurich C, Gu M, Cheng L, Lu X, Guo F. Evaluation of cancer immunotherapy using mini-tumor chips. Theranostics 2022; 12(8):3628-3636. doi:10.7150/thno.71761. Available from

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Graphic abstract

Rationale: Predicting tumor responses to adjuvant therapies can potentially help guide treatment decisions and improve patient survival. Currently, tumor pathology, histology, and molecular profiles are being integrated into personalized profiles to guide therapeutic decisions. However, it remains a grand challenge to evaluate tumor responses to immunotherapy for personalized medicine.

Methods: We present a microfluidics-based mini-tumor chip approach to predict tumor responses to cancer immunotherapy in a preclinical model. By uniformly infusing dissociated tumor cells into isolated microfluidic well-arrays, 960 mini-tumors could be uniformly generated on-chip, with each well representing the ex vivo tumor niche that preserves the original tumor cell composition and dynamic cell-cell interactions and autocrine/paracrine cytokines.

Results: By incorporating time-lapse live-cell imaging, our mini-tumor chip allows the investigation of dynamic immune-tumor interactions as well as their responses to cancer immunotherapy (e.g., anti-PD1 treatment) in parallel within 36 hours. Additionally, by establishing orthotopic breast tumor models with constitutive differential PD-L1 expression levels, we showed that the on-chip interrogation of the primary tumor's responses to anti-PD1 as early as 10 days post tumor inoculation could predict the in vivo tumors' responses to anti-PD1 at the endpoint of day 24. We also demonstrated the application of this mini-tumor chip to interrogate on-chip responses of primary tumor cells isolated from primary human breast and renal tumor tissues.

Conclusions: Our approach provides a simple, quick-turnaround solution to measure tumor responses to cancer immunotherapy.

Keywords: Tumor-on-a-chip, tumor microenvironment, cancer immunotherapy, personalized therapy