Personalization is all the rage in both the holiday shopping scene and in the realm of cancer treatment. The truth is, everyone wants to feel special, like his or her needs and desires are being specifically catered to. Bringing a new level of personalization to the cancer scene is the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where researchers are developing a way to grow a patient’s cancer outside of their body so that they can better monitor and test it.
The U-M team has a simple but brilliant vision: grow the cancer of a patient outside of a patient’s body. That way, doctors can watch the cancer progress in real time and always have a sense of what is going on with the patient. In addition, testing of treatment could be less risky since one could simply treat the “copied” cancer to see how effective that treatment is.
"Cancer cells change constantly and they can quickly develop resistance to a given treatment," says Dr. Max Wicha (left), professor of oncology at Ann Arbor. But having a copy (or multiple copies) of the cancer allows doctors to find out sooner what works and what doesn’t. “If a cancer develops resistance to one therapy, we'll be able to quickly change to a different treatment," he explains in a recent U-M article.
The main reason Wicha’s idea hasn’t been previously implemented is because of the difficulty of growing cancer cells outside of the body. Isolated cancer cells actually tend to die when removed from the body. Thus the trick was to recreate a body-like environment using a collection of antibodies and fibroblast cells. Now the team is successfully growing cancer cells and looking to the future.
"We envision a point-of-care solution in four to five years," said Nithya Ramnath (right), U-M associate professor of medical oncology. "You'd give blood and a short time later, doctors would have a whole repertoire of what's going on with your tumor." From just one blood sample, doctors can extract several copies of the patient’s cancer to track and test.
Funding for this study is provided by the National Institutes of Health Director's New Innovator Award. For more detailed funding statistics regarding the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, read on with our Funding Statistics and Vendor Show Info report:
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