Mini-tumours grown from a patient's cancer can help to pinpoint the right treatment for an individual's disease, scientists in the Netherlands have shown.
Every cancer is different. In fact, even within an individual cancer, there is enormous diversity in terms of the genetic changes carried by the cells.
Taking a biopsy of one part of a tumour and using this to inform drug or treatment choices is similar to stopping the first person on the street and asking them which political party they are going to vote for: the view of the individual will not be representative of the views of the population at large.
To surmount this, Netherlands Hubrecht Institute-based scientist Hans Clevers and his colleagues have attempted to grow mini-cancers, dubbed organoids, in the laboratory dish by collecting and culturing tumour tissue collected from twenty patients with colon cancers.
Using specialised 3d growth conditions, they show in their paper in the journal Cell this week, the biopsy specimens form balls of tissue that recapitulate the tumours from which they were taken.
These samples can then be used for further tests, including genetic screens that can signal prognosis or likely responses to treatment, to direct drug screens that can be used to identify the optimum thrapeutic regime and highlight likely drug resistance processes before they are even realised in the patient.
By also growing organoids from the patient's healthy tissue alongside the cancerous ones it's also possible to further refine treatments based on what does maximum damage to the cancer with minimum harm to the healthy tissue.