Tomorrow’s laboratories today

- 4 min
Benjamin Péant

Have you ever heard of a lab-on-a-chip? If not, run over and have a chat with Benjamin Péant, the manager of the CHUM Research Centre’s Microfluidics Core Facility since 2019. During his lunch break, chances are you’ll find him with his nose in a book on the military history of the Napoleonic era. The man is crazy about history—and biology!

Even though his first choice as a teen was the field of archaeology, a high school biology teacher’s enthusiasm for his subject quickly had Péant setting his sights in another direction. Of course, he doesn’t dig below the surface of the earth in search of clues from the past; instead, he probes the strata of living organisms at a microscopic level.

His first research work was conducted while a student in the master’s program in molecular and cellular biology in Lyon, France. After that, he attended Laval University for his PhD in molecular microbiology.

In 2004, Péant joined the research group of Dr. Fred Saad and Anne-Marie Mes-Masson for his postdoctoral fellowship in molecular oncology. At the time, he worked mainly on prostate cancer. He has been a research associate with this group since 2008, working simultaneously for the past four years on miniaturized laboratories of the future in the Microfluidics Core Facility.

A lab in the palm of your hand

Today, microfluidics devices or labs-on-a-chip, developed at the Research Centre, allow scientists to test, observe and predict the effects of treatments on patient tumour samples in a controlled environment. This method also reduces the quantity of reagents used and analysis time. The future!

 Our devices are made of flexible polymer parts that are biocompatible and gas permeable, which allow us to grow three-dimensional biological structures ex vivo, notably micro-dissected tumours 

Unique in the world, the technology for this microdissection and the device were developed and refined over a period of ten years by Anne-Marie Mes-Masson’s team, which Benjamin Péant belongs to, in partnership with Thomas Gervais, a professor at Polytechnique and CRCHUM researcher.

Using the biopsy of a tumour from a patient, scientists cut between 500 and 600 spheres, 300 microns in diameter, which will be grown in the microfluidic devices and exposed to different treatment or culture conditions.

The potential advantage is that, by preserving the tumour’s microenvironment and architecture, as well as the cell composition of the original tissue, it would be possible to better predict the patient’s response to a treatment than current cell culture methods.

A complementary trio 

Two biologists, Jennifer Kendall-Dupont and Benjamin Péant, and a medical engineering specialist, Amélie St-Georges-Robillard, work together in the core facility, offering several custom services.

“In basic research, we can determine, for example, what the reaction of cells will be to different substances. The 3D models that we offer research teams, more complex than 2D models, allow researchers to better understand what is going on in the tumour microenvironment and monitor the response to given stimuli.”

For companies or even university customers, the team offers a more translational approach: characterization of the response to new molecules on mouse or human samples.

‘’We are currently working on validating a preclinical tool for ovarian cancer. Our goal is to test the response to therapies before patients even begin their treatments. By identifying resistance to certain treatments beyond a reasonable doubt, this tool could guide doctors in their treatment choices.”

A flexible core facility 

Thanks to their engineering component and equipment, the team is able to customize their labs-on-a-chip to each customer’s need, even though it has earned its stripes working on oncology projects.

The trio recently developed devices to grow pancreatic islets for Dr. Poitout’s laboratory.

“Our view is really to democratize knowledge about this emerging technology and to further this knowledge to improve health care and, ultimately, patients’ lives. We have therefore trained teams in Montreal, the United States and France in our microdissection technique.”

For Benjamin Péant, belonging to the core facility’s team has allowed him to discover the Research Centre from a different angle.

“After serving briefly on the Institutional Animal Protection Committee, I have been a member of the Quality Assurance Committee for a few months. I really appreciate the collaborative, family atmosphere at the Centre. It’s a healthy and very competitive environment to work in.”

Tomorrow’s laboratories today


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