Development and preclinical implementation of a rhabdomyosarcoma organon-a-chip model to identify novel therapies

Area of knowledge: Telecommunications, Electronics, Robotics, Biomedical Engineering, Automation Engineering, ICT

Group leaders

Javier Ramon Azcon, Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) ·
Cesar Serrano, Vall de Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIOS) ·


One of the significant issues when facing cancer, a global health problem, is the biological and clinical heterogeneity of each type of tumor, which highlights the need for personalized therapies. This scientific and social demand for individualized medicine is particularly intriguing in rare cancers, where sample availability is particularly limited. One of these rare cancers is Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), an aggressive neoplasm that originates in skeletal muscle from childhood to adulthood and leads to 3 different subtypes. There are currently few pre-clinical models available, and they present intrinsic limitations to investigating RMS biology and drug development. Contrary, Organ-on-a-chip (OoC) devices offer new cancer-modeling and drug discovery approaches by combining biologically relevant in vitro models of tissues and organs with integrated analytical biosensors. As such, OoC devices can revolutionize medical approaches and the pharmaceutical industry by enabling individualized, reliable, and highly predictive in vitro testing of drug candidates.

In this PhD, the student will aim to recapitulate RMS biology using OoC to study the interactions and biochemical crosstalks between RMS tumor, its microenvironment (TME), and healthy skeletal muscle. We aim to establish an OoC model clinically relevant for RMS development, considering the effect of age and gender. To achieve this aim, we have gathered a multidisciplinary consortium of experts in 1) microfabrication, sensing technology, biomaterials, and tissue engineering; and 2) the fields of skeletal muscle diseases and clinical and translational RMS research. The capability to miniaturise biosensor systems and advanced tissue engineering procedures will allow the creation an RMS OoC platform to shed light on RMS, and validate preclinically off-the-shelf therapies. Overall, such findings will set the basis for a preclinical model for new therapies in the treatment of RMS.


The PhD candidate will work in a multidisciplinary environment within two highly recognised research institutions, the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) and Vall de Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO). The PhD candidate will work under the supervision of Professor Javier Ramon from IBEC institution and the management of Dr and MD Cesar Serrano group leader from VHIO. Both centers offer an international environment and are top institutions in Bioengineering and Oncology, respectively.

The candidate will develop tissue engineering protocols to create 3D skeletal muscle tissues and fabricate new biomaterials to encapsulate cells. He/she will conduct complex interdisciplinary research developing and applying new 3D bioprinting technology for regenerative medicine applications. He/she will also contribute to developing new real-time monitoring biosensors based on nanostructures with specific antibodies attached to their surface. The PhD candidate will work also with cell patients and sarcoma biopsies that will be integrated into a final organ-on-a-chip device for the study of the disease and to check different treatments.