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Fighting cancer with cancer: Researchers develop a 3-D approach to battle the disease

Posted November 9th, 2017, 12:59 PM IST

Fighting cancer with cancer: Researchers develop a 3-D approach to battle the disease

Washington: According to a recent study, honeycomb-like arrays of tiny, lab-grown cancers could one day help doctors zero in on individualized treatments for ovarian cancer.

The University of Michigan researchers devised a process that can grow hundreds of cultured cell masses, called spheroids, from just a few tumor cells derived from a patient. Grown in a U-M-developed structure called a 384-hanging drop array, each spheroid is encased in a tiny droplet of a special culturing medium. This 3-D method yields cells that grow and multiply just as they would inside the body.

Eventually, those spheroids could serve as a testing ground where doctors could quickly try out many different medications, finding the best combination for an individual patient and adjusting on the fly as the disease evolves. This could help them stay one step ahead of the tumor cells inside the patient's body.

"Today we're limited to two-dimensional cells grown in bovine serum that's derived from cows. Cells grown this way often don't respond to medication the same way as ovarian cancer cells inside the body," said lead researcher Geeta Mehta. "Three-dimensional cultured spheroids provide a much more predictive way to test many different medications, and a way to grow many cultured cells from just a few of the patient-derived cells."

In a recent study, researchers administered cancer drugs to the cultured cancer spheroids and compared their response to that of ovarian cancer cells that had been removed from the same patient and implanted into mice.

They showed that the response of the cultured spheroids accurately mirrored that of the natural cells implanted in the mice.

Mehta explained that even among cancers, ovarian cancer is particularly menacing. Its free-floating spheroids shuttle cancer through the abdomen with the ability to form new tumors wherever they go--the liver, the intestines, the abdominal wall. And the cells within those spheroids mutate often and unpredictably, quickly developing new strains that resist chemotherapy drugs.

While widespread clinical use is likely years off, Mehta said that the team now plans to do more extensive testing, culturing cells from patients who are undergoing chemotherapy, then administering the same chemotherapy drugs to the cultured cells and measuring their response.

The team also plans to expand testing of the treatment beyond cancer stem cells to other cell types with the goal of gaining a broader understanding of the role each cell type plays in building resistance to chemotherapy.

The study appears in Clinical Cancer Research.

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