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New international cancer-modelling initiative announced

18 July 2016

By Arit Udoh

Appeared in BioNews 860

A group of international scientists have announced plans to work collaboratively on a research project that aims to develop human cancer models that would better mimic the disease.

Researchers from the UK, USA and the Netherlands have launched a pilot phase of the project, called the Human Cancer Models Initiative (HCMI), to create 1000 new cancer cell lines within three years that will be available for study by cancer researchers worldwide.

Dr Louis Staudt, director of National Cancer Institute's Center for Cancer Genomics in the USA, said that the project was 'timed perfectly to take advantage of the latest cell culture and genomic sequencing techniques to create models that are representative of patient tumours and are annotated with genomic and clinical information'.

The team plans to study the genetic changes in cancer tumours in three-dimensional cultures called organoids, which can be derived from individual tumours and which better reflect how cancer works in the human body.

Typically, cancer cell lines are lab grown on a two-dimensional plastic plate for research. However, this artificial environment often leads to a change in cell biology such that the cells no longer present features of the tumours from which they were derived, Dr Matthew Garnett, group leader at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, told Cancer Research UK.

Early studies of bowel cancer by the team at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute found that cell lines grown from organoids retained up to 80 percent of the gene faults found in the tumour samples.

The HCMI researchers hope to replicate this procedure for bowel, pancreatic and oesophageal cancers, possibly extending the study to rare and childhood cancers at a later stage.

'The project means that we can expand our resources for researchers around the world,' said Dr Ian Walker, Cancer Research UK's director of clinical research and strategic partnerships.

'We want scientists to have the best resources to be able to easily study all types of cancer. And these new cell lines could transform how we study cancer and could help to develop better treatments for patients,' he added.

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