25 Oct

Growing Mini Tumors

A couple of weeks ago, my boss shared this great article about improved treatment of patient cancers, by growing “mini tumors” in Petri Dishes.  The challenge being, how to keep ordinary and cancerous cells alive indefinitely in a laboratory.  The concept is to allow doctors to grow mini tumors from a patient’s cancer, in a lab dish, then test various drugs or combinations on them to see which works best. 

According to the article, it takes only a few cells from a biopsy and less than two weeks to do, with the materials and proceedures common in most hospitals.

 The article went on to say that this concept is going to require much more testing, especially when you consider how many different types of cancers are out there.  But, it does hold promise in offering a more cost effective means of personalizing treatment without having to analyze each patient’s genes.

 Dr. George Q. Daley of Children’s Hospital Boston and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute said, in comparison to infections, which it is routine to grow bacteria from a patient in lab dishes to see which antibiotics work best, it has apparently never been possible to do the same with cancer cells because they are not able to easily grow in culture. 

For me personally, as a survivor of Prostate Cancer, I would hope that this new technique could help to reveal in advance whether a someone could be helped by a specific treatment like chemotherapy, but without having to deal with the side effects, time and frustration if it’s determined that the drug is not working.  

The study was prompted from the case of a 24 year old man, who has endoured 350 surgeries since childhood to remove growths that keep coming back in his throat and have now spread to his lungs.  A lab-dish test had suggested that a drug used to treat a type of blood cancer and some other unrelated conditions, may hold promise in finding a cure.  So far, his lab has grown prostate, breast, lung and colon cancer cells.  Great News!

Stephen Gonshorek