[Wlodkowic D, Cooper JM. Tumors on chips: oncology meets microfluidics. Curr Opin Chem Biol. 2010 Oct;14(5):556-67. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2010.08.016. Epub 2010 Sep 9.]
Despite over 2 million papers published on cancer so far, malignancy still remains a puzzlingly complex disease with overall low survival rates. Expanding our knowledge of the molecular mechanisms of malignancy and of resistance to therapy is crucial in guiding the successful design of anti-cancer drugs and new point-of-care diagnostics. The up-and-coming microfluidic Lab-on-a-Chip (LOC) technology and micro-total analysis systems (μTAS) are arguably the most promising platforms to address the inherent complexity of cellular systems with massive experimental parallelization and 4D analysis on a single cell level. This review discusses the emerging applications of microfluidic technologies and their advantages for cancer biology and experimental oncology. We also summarize the recent advances in miniaturized systems to study cancer cell microenvironment, cancer cytomics, and real-time (4D) pharmacological screening. Microfabricated systems, such as cell microarrays, together with on-chip label-less cytometry, and micro-sorting technologies, are all highlighted with the view of describing their potential applications in pharmacological screening, drug discovery, and clinical oncology. It is envisaged that microfluidic solutions may well represent the platform of choice for next generation in vitro cancer models.