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'Mini-tumours' could help tailor individual cancer therapy

26 February 2018
Appeared in BioNews 939

Researchers have tested cancer drugs on lab-grown 'mini-tumours' and say the results mean that the most appropriate treatment for a patient with cancer could be given faster in future.

The team grew organoids, or mini-tumours, from the cells of 71 patients with advanced cancers of the digestive system. These mini-tumours were treated with drugs that the cancer patients had originally received in clinical trials, and the results showed that if the drug worked in the mini-tumour, it had worked almost 90 percent of the time in the patient too.

Furthermore, the drugs that did not work in the patients did not work in the mini-tumours either. This could stop future cancer patients needing to try a range of ineffective drugs before finding those that work best.

'Once a cancer has spread round the body and stopped responding to standard treatments, we face a race against time to find patients a drug that might slow the cancer's progression and extend their lives,' said Dr Nicola Valeri at the Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London, who led the study. The work was published in the journal Science.

'We found that recreating patients' tumours in the laboratory using this new technique gave us an extremely promising way to predict whether a drug would work for a patient. We were able to look in incredible detail at how tumours responded to drugs – including patterns of gene activity and mutation, and even how the cancer would evolve in response to treatment.'

While the study included samples taken from patients with bowel, stomach and bile duct cancers, Dr Valeri and colleagues believe the technique could be used on other kinds of cancer. It could also help speed up the drug discovery process, said Professor Paul Workman, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research. Knowing how a tumour will respond to a treatment could even 'reduce reliance on animal experiments' in future, he said.

The study researchers believe further trials with larger groups of patients are needed, but that the results hold large potential for more personalised medicine.

Lab-grown 'mini tumours' could personalise cancer treatment
Cancer Research UK |  21 February 2018
'Mini-tumours' created to battle cancer
BBC |  22 February 2018
Patient-derived organoids model treatment response of metastatic gastrointestinal cancers
Science |  23 February 2018
Scientists grow 'mini tumours' which enable cancer patients to have tailor made treatment
The Daily Telegraph |  22 February 2018
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