New Vanderbilt Research Tests Cancer Treatment Effectiveness

November 14, 2014

Across the U.S., there a many labs working on new and innovative treatments for various types of cancer. However, researchers from Vanderbilt University have taken a new approach by developing a way to test the efficacy and side effects of cancer treatments on a patient’s specific tissue before he or she ever undergoes treatment.

Published in the journal Cancer Research, the research explains a “tumor-in-a-dish” technique that uses three-dimensional tissue samples taken from a surgery or biopsy, research news website Futurity explained. Unlike standard single layer cells, the 3D organoids retain more characteristics of the original tumor. This allows researchers to test toxic cancer drugs on the tissue without risking harm to the patient.

Vanderbilt’s biomedical engineers used optical metabolic imaging to test this technique on three common types of breast cancer. When the treatment will be effective, it produces florescence within 72 hours. If it isn’t effective, there’s no reaction. This strategy could also help determine if treatments will be wholly effective or leave a certain percentage of cancerous cells behind to grow back. Futurity pointed out that nearly 100,000 breast cancer patients each year don’t respond to standard drugs, and more than one-third are forced to switch treatments.

“Right now it’s a guessing game,” said Melissa Skala, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Vanderbilt University. “We hope that our test will significantly improve the odds of survival of breast cancer patients by allowing doctors to identify the most effective but least toxic form of chemotherapy for each individual patient before the treatment begins.”

“We’ll still need to work through the best way to make this the norm,” said MSU researcher Kendra Cheruvelil, Ph.D. “We’re not saying to share data as soon as it’s gathered, and we understand that there’s not a one-size-fits-all policy. Our hope is that scientists will change their practice because they are compelled by the argument that they are ethically obliged to, not because they are forced to share data.”

Vanderbilt announced that this testing technique could become clinically available in less than 10 years.