Breakthrough in cancer research

Breakthrough in cancer research

Breakthrough in cancer research

Until now, scientists have been unable to make cancer cells thrive for very long in the laboratory in a condition that resembles the way they look and act in the body. Doctors have largely relied on biopsied tissue that is frozen or set in wax to diagnose and recommend treatment.

The advance has sparked new hope that someday doctors may be able to test a host of cancer-killing drugs on a person's own tumor cells in the lab, before returning to the patient with a therapy that is likely to be a good match.

"This would really be the ultimate in personalized medicine," said lead author Richard Schlegel, chairman of the department of pathology at Georgetown University's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Centre .

“The therapies would be exactly from their tissues. We would get normal tissue and tumor tissue from a particular patient and specifically match up their therapies," Schlegel said. “We are really excited about the possibilities of testing what we can do with this.”

The method, described in the online edition of the American Journal of Pathology, borrows on a simple method used in stem cell research, experts said.Lung, breast, prostate and colon cancers were kept alive for up to two years using the technique, which combines fibroblast feeder cells to keep cells alive and a Rho kinase (ROCK) inhibitor that allows them to reproduce.When treated with the duo, both cancer and normal cells reverted to a "stem-like state," Schlegel said, allowing researchers to compare the living cells directly for the first time.

The two elements have previously been used separately in stem cell research, according to Yale University pathology professor David Rimm, who wrote a commentary that accompanies the article.

“No individual technique was new, as far as I know. It was in some sense a very clever combination that led to this success,” Rimm told.Rimm cautioned that more labs need to show they can do it too, and that attempts to try different therapies to kill the cancer cells are just "speculation” now, but described the initial results as "pretty compelling."

“One of my senior scientists went down to Georgetown for a week and she got it to work. She got pancreatic cells to work, which is impossible. Even they were having trouble with that one,”he said.