Culturing Cancer Cells For Personalized Treatments

Researchers have boosted the success rate of culturing circulating tumor cells from blood samples to 60 percent, paving the way for personalized treatments.

AsianScientist (Dec. 3, 2015) – Scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed a novel technique to culture clusters containing circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in 14 days. This technique, published in Oncotarget, could be used to predict the outcome of cancer treatment as well as monitor the status of cancer.

The study was conducted by scientists from the Mechanobiology Institute (MBI) and Cancer Science Institute of Singapore (CSI) at NUS and in collaboration with the National University Cancer Institute, Singapore (NCIS).

Professor Lim Chwee Teck, who is from MBI and one of the lead authors, explained, “Being able to capture CTCs and grow them efficiently from a blood sample is a big step forward in liquid biopsy for tumor diagnosis and cancer treatment monitoring.”

“The chance of getting CTCs in a blood sample is akin to trying to find a hundred people in a world of seven billion people.”

Owing to this rarity, the population of CTCs needs to be expanded before they can be used for clinical analysis. Currently, most methods used to culture CTCs have either lacked efficiency or required pre-selection techniques for the elimination of non-cancerous cells that led to the loss of some CTCs in the process.

In an attempt to overcome these setbacks, the researchers developed a novel methodology to efficiently culture clusters containing CTCs from blood samples. They created an ideal environment—using a combination of specially designed microwells and oxygen-deficient growth conditions—for tumor cells to grow while other non-cancerous cells gradually undergo cell death.

Tests can potentially be done on the cultured CTCs to guide the selection of drug therapy, added Adjunct Associate Professor Lee Soo Chin, Associate Director (Research) and Senior Consultant of NCIS, who is also a Senior Principal Investigator from CSI, and the clinical lead for the study.

“As the CTCs can be cultured in a short time period, the entire testing process can take as short as four weeks—two weeks for culturing the CTCs and two weeks for drug screening. Patients will not have to wait a long time for the test results.”

Tests were conducted on 226 clinical blood samples obtained from 92 metastatic or early-stage breast cancer patients who began anti-cancer therapy, and a success rate of over 60 percent in culturing clusters containing CTCs was achieved using the novel technique, more than two to three times higher than conventional methods of culturing CTCs.

“The genetic makeup and immune response of each individual can also result in very different outcomes despite receiving the same treatment. The ‘one size fits all’ approach has proven to be ineffective and only individual patient-derived information can help us do a better job,” Lim said.

“We are looking at developing technologies that can acquire such critical information so that clinicians can tailor and administer precise treatment for each individual patient.”

The article can be found at: Khoo et al. (2015) Short-term Expansion of Breast Circulating Cancer Cells Predicts Response to Anti-cancer Therapy.


Source: National University of Singapore; Photo: Shutterstock.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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