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Organoids Designed for Faster Cancer Diagnostics

Tumor organoids

Tumor organoids growing in a lab dish (UCLA Health)

26 Feb. 2019. A new process grows small samples of tumor tissue in the lab to enable high-speed diagnostics for personalized cancer treatments and drug testing. A team from University of California in Los Angeles medical center describes the techniques in yesterday’s issue of the journal Communications Biology.

Researchers from the UCLA lab of oncologist and hematologist Alice Soragni are seeking faster and inexpensive, yet still reliable methods for assessing patients’ tumors to determine the best treatment for their cancer. New precision medicine strategies promise to identify optimum cancer therapies, often based on genomic sequencing of patients’ tumor cells. But so far, the number of cancers reliably identified by these biomarkers, say the authors, are limited. And the use of tissue samples for drug screening would likely require multiple tumor biopsies, yet only allowing for tests of a few drugs at a time.

The team recommends instead growing sample tumor organoids in the lab, based on cells from the patients’ tumors. The cells can be derived from a single biopsy or surgery to remove the tumor, without subjecting the patient to repeated invasive procedures. The cells are mixed with a commercial hydrogel containing collagen and growth factors providing a framework and environment for growing three-dimensional tumor tissue. The cell-hydrogel mixture is then spread in rings in wells on standard lab test plates, found in both manual and robotic systems, but the UCLA team designed its process for high-volume robotic lab systems.

This ring method seeds a small number of cells around the wells in lines that then grow into tumor organoids. “We obtain cancer cells directly from surgery and that same day we can seed them to generate tumor organoids,” says Soragni in a medical center statement. “We created a miniaturized system that allows the setup of hundreds of wells for testing with minimal manipulation.” Growing the organoids takes about 3 days, which can then be used for drug screening.

The researchers tested the system with cells from 4 women, 3 with ovarian cancer and 1 with a rare cancer of the peritoneum that lines the abdomen wall. The organoids revealed different tumors in each of the cases, even among the 3 women with ovarian cancer. Organoids were grown from cells for each of tumors on plates with hundreds of wells, allowing for rapid screening of drugs with robotic lab systems. The entire process takes about 1 week, sufficient time, say the authors, for clinical decision-making.

For the tests , the team screened 240 cancer drugs that block tumor-supporting enzymes, either approved by FDA or in clinical trials, with each drug tested in 2 concentrations. The results revealed personalized treatment recommendations in each case, even for organoids from rare types of cancer.

The researchers say finding treatments for rare forms of cancer may be the study’s most important finding. “This could become a powerful tool,” notes Soragni, “to help guide therapies for people who really have no known treatment options left.”

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