New tool predicts how cancer patients will respond to treatment

Scientists can explore therapy outcomes by examining mini-tumours grown in lab

D7GMY0 University College London Portico building, by William Wilkins, London, UK

A technological breakthrough can predict how cancer patients will respond to treatment by examining lab-grown mini-tumours made from their own cells.

Researchers at University College London Cancer Institute say a new screening tool can rapidly test tumorous tissue against different therapies, such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy or radiotherapy.

They hope the discovery can improve clinical decision-making and eliminate the need for multiple invasive treatments for patients.

The peer-reviewed study, published in Nature Protocols, builds on the team’s previous work on how mutated cancer cells “mimic the growth signals” normally expressed by healthy cells.

In their latest research, they have taken patients’ cells to develop mini-tumours, known as organoids, which are grown by embedding cancer stem cells in collagen in the lab. These 3D mini-tumours contain numerous different cells and more accurately represent a patient’s cancer compared to more traditional research.

The UCL team advanced their original technology to allowed them to test 126 patient samples in a single screening process using the pioneering spectrometry platform.

Each mini-tumour acts as an individual patient ‘avatar’ and can be studied in the lab, allowing researchers to trial numerous anti-cancer drugs to explore how an individual’s tumour might respond.

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The idea is that we can predict that in the lab, provide an early check and balance, and hopefully find an alternative treatment to use at the outset of a patient’s treatment course
Dr Chris Tape of the UCL Cancer Institute

Lead author Dr Chris Tape at the UCL Cancer Institute said: “The screening platform enables us to observe cancer cells, alongside the healthy immune, fibroblast and stromal cells, and see how they respond to each other - so we can model how an individual patient’s cancer behaves.

“By treating the mini-tumours with different kinds of cancer treatments, the screening tool also allows us to observe how both the cancer and healthy cells respond - both equally as important - and determine which treatment could work best for a patient."

Dr Tape added: “It is one of the great frustrations that with common chemotherapies, some patients will respond well and others not at all.

“The idea is that we can predict that in the lab, provide an early check and balance, and hopefully find an alternative treatment to use at the outset of a patient’s treatment course.”

It is hoped in the future that the new tool could transform therapy selection for people diagnosed with solid cancers including colorectal, liver, breast and brain cancers.

Updated: September 15th 2021, 10:56 AM
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