Treating cancer is difficult – and time is not on the patient’s side. In a new project, the patient’s own tumour tissue is used to identify personalised methods for striking back against cancer.
“Today, it is generally only the cancer cells themselves that are studied, not the environment in which they exist,” says Yalda Bogestål, project manager at RISE.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer is responsible for one in six deaths. In 2015, 8.8 million people died as a result of various cancers. Identifying effective cancer medication and more precise diagnostics is a matter of global importance.
RISE is currently leading a new project with 12 partners to improve cancer diagnostics and drug development. The project is intended to take a unique method developed by two researchers at Sahlgrenska Academy onwards to clinical trials and industrial application.
“I would like to say that this is exactly the kind of thing we are good at; being there from concept through innovation and on to realising industrial applications that benefit patients,” says Yalda Bogestål.
“The competences of all of the partners play a major role in the project, with each contributing their varied expertise.”
Method for more accurate diagnoses and prognoses
The method is founded on an understanding of the building blocks of tumours. When a surgeon removes a tumour from a patient, a piece of the tumour is taken and cleaned of cells, leaving a structure of connective tissue known as a scaffold. Standardised cancer cells are then added to this scaffold, making it possible to measure the effect that the patient’s particular scaffold has on the cells. This allows doctors to make more accurate diagnoses and prognoses.
“Associate Professor Anders Ståhlberg and Professor Göran Landberg of the University of Gothenburg have demonstrated the importance of scaffolding to tumour behaviour. The method is applicable to solid tumours. We have begun to look at breast cancer as a model indication,” says Yalda Bogestål.
Better reflection of reality
When cancer drugs are tested in the laboratory, the starting point is usually cell cultures in petri dishes. This provides a very artificial, a two-dimensional environment. Substances that demonstrate the desired effect are then further evaluated in animals before being finally cleared for human clinical trials. Unfortunately, these early test are not sufficiently predictive and only somewhere between 5 and 10% of substances successfully make their way along the full length of the chain.
“By using 3Dprinted scaffolds that mimic the patient’s tumour better than cell cultures, we are developing a method to test possible anticancer drugs on an industrial scale. This provides screening that is a much better reflection of reality and therefore provides better results,” explains Joakim Håkansson, project manager at RISE.