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Tumour in a petri dish – a way to a personalized cancer treatment

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Posted June 15, 2015

Cancer is still one of those diagnoses that make people weak in their knees and sometimes change the course of patient‘s life. Sometimes it takes even more. That is why innovative cancer treatments are always in the spotlight of attention and that is why scientists have been puzzling how to treat cancer for a long time. They understand that not every case is the same, individuals need individual treatment. And now scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison completed highly successful, first-of-its-kind endeavour to create tumour in a petri dish.

Multiple myeloma is a universally fatal cancer with survival rate of about five to seven years. Being able to test drugs for each patient in a petri dish will reduce stress they are getting and will reduce cost of the treatment. Image credit: KGH via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Multiple myeloma is a universally fatal cancer with survival rate of about five to seven years. Being able to test drugs for each patient in a petri dish will reduce stress they are getting and will reduce cost of the treatment. Image credit: KGH via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

This is an important achievement as it will allow for personalized treatments in the future. Multiple myeloma in a petri dish can be used to anticipate its response to a drug, which eliminates need to test all drugs directly on the patient. David Beebe, one of the co-authors of the study, said that this research is one of the first steps of mimicking the body of the cancer patient in a dish.

The methods of creating such environment in laboratory are rather complicated. The researchers produced testing process, which involves co-culturing multiple myeloma tumour cells with their surrounding cells that do not have cancer, all from the same patient, in a micro scale petri dish. Then scientists treated this cancer in a dish with common drug, called bortezomib, which is often used to treat myeloma, and it only took them three days to see if treatment is effective or not.

The experiments and research itself reached tremendous amount of success. When scientists compared the results of the petri dish experiments and results of treatment of the actual patient, they matched perfectly 100 % of the time. It is unprecedented accuracy and success for such experiments. The idea behind the research was to include environment of the tumour too, not just the tumour itself, which improves ability to accurately gauge its reaction to drugs.

Multiple myeloma that scientists are so interested in is a universally fatal cancer. It is treatable but incurable. It rises in the blood marrow due to an accumulation of abnormal, or cancerous, plasma cells and current median survival rate only reaches about five to seven years. This is already and improved and more hopeful result of progress of health sciences, but still very low.

The new assay, or testing process, may not help to reach the breakthrough in searching for cure for cancer. Multiple myeloma is most likely to remain a universally fatal cancer until some major scientific discoveries are made. However, it can save many multiple myeloma cancer patients the psychological stress of having to try multiple drugs until they find the most effective one. It also lowers the cost of treatment.

This new method is a bit like scaling down from a lake to a bathtub, as scientists describe it. Cancer is still able to interact with its surroundings as well as treatment, but outside of the body. Now scientists are looking for possibilities to conduct a prospective trial, which, instead of simply matching the results of patients with that of the petri dish tests, will actually use the petri dish itself to identify responsive and nonresponsive patients. Scientists are already thinking how to expand this assay to test responsiveness to different drugs of other cancers as well.

This may not be a tool to cure cancer, but it will surely help cancer patients to receive personalized treatments. It will reduce stress they get through usual trial and error method and will make treatment that a little bit less tormenting. Which is very good news to many patients and to their families.

Source: wisc.edu

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