8 May 2015

Revolutionary stem cell culturing technique enables testing of drugs on patient tissue

Back to news

In an article published in Cell magazine this week, researchers from the Hubrecht Institute, in collaboration with the Sanger Institute, describe the construction of a “living biobank” for colorectal cancer. The researchers, led by Hans Clevers, used organoid technology to grow tumor tissue. In the future this technique can be used for personalized medicine: offering a tailor-made treatment for the individual patient.

Colorectal cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer; annually almost 700.000 people die of this disease worldwide. The chances of survival for colorectal cancer patients are good if the disease is detected early, but falls sharply when the disease is advanced. For the latter group, it is essential that the right medication is found.

In 2009, scientists from the Hubrecht Institute described a revolutionary culturing method that allowed the culturing of mini-guts from single mouse intestinal stem cells. These ‘organoids’ are functional miniature organs that can grow in tissue culture. In the study published this week, Van de Wetering et al. show that this method can be used for the construction of a living biobank of ‘tumoroids’. These are colorectal cancer tumors that are cultured and grown in the lab similar to organoids.

Living biobank
To use tumoroids for drug-screening it is essential that they reflect the genetic landscape of the tumor. Cancer is caused by the accumulation of errors in the hereditary characteristics (DNA) of stem cells. Because of these errors, cancer cells ignore the signals that normally regulate growth and rest of healthy cells. DNA analysis shows that the errors in the DNA of the tumor are also present in the DNA of the tumoroids, making them a faithful reflection of the original tumor. The other requirement is that tumoroids can be used in an automated test setting. The study shows that it is possible to determine the resistance or sensitivity of the tumor tissue of the individual patient for a variety of cancer drugs. In a next step, this method can be used to prescribe a therapy to every individual cancer patients, based on drug resistance or drug sensitivity of the cultured tumor tissue.

The living biobank (founded with the support of the KWF / Stand Up To Cancer) will be available to cancer researchers and companies worldwide seeking to develop new drugs and therapies against cancer.