Growing miniature tumours in the lab could help doctors discover the best way to treat each patient, homing in on the right drugs to use.
Nicola Valeri, of the Institute of Cancer Research, in London, and his team have shown this by taking 110 biopsies from tumours. These were all secondary tumours from 71 people with cancers that had spread from the bowel, oesophagus or bile duct.
In the lab, the team grew up the cells from these biopsies into miniature tumours, and tested 55 standard chemotherapeutic drugs on each kind, to see which were the best at killing them. These tests showed with 100 per cent accuracy which drugs hadn’t worked out when tried in the patient who’d donated the cells. The tests were 88 per cent accurate at predicting drugs that had successfully shrunk tumours in these patients.
Cancer treatment is often guided by genetic sequences taken from a primary tumour, but the team think their method is a better way of deciding how to fight cancer that has spread elsewhere in the body. “We know that cancers evolve over treatment and change between the primary and the secondaries,” says Valeri.
The team is planning to test their approach in a clinical trial in which chemotherapy drug selection for each person will be guided by testing balls of their cells in the lab. As well as tumour cells, they’re also looking at how immune and inflammatory cells from a person might help guide their treatment.