A global effort to create a library of human cancer models using next-generation cell culture techniques launched last summer. The Human Cancer Models Initiative’s founding members include the Hubrecht Organoid Technology Foundation in Utrecht, the Netherlands; Cancer Research UK, in London; the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland; and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, UK. The project aims to make new cellular models of cancer directly from patients’ tumors which they expect will better represent the genetic diversity and physiological relevance of cancer than currently accessible cell lines. The initiative aims to make the library accessible to investigators around the world to study different aspects of the disease such as tumor heterogeneity, disease progression and mechanisms of drugs resistance, as well as to screen for new drugs and to define which treatment is best suited to which cancer. In the first three years, the project will set up 1,000 cell lines, including lines from esophageal, pancreatic, prostate and rare cancers. If the new models prove valuable, the founders hope to expand the collection to 10,000, a number that could potentially capture the diversity of both rare and common genetic subtypes in cancer.
Different technologies will be used, among them a three-dimensional (3D) cell culture method known as organoids, derived from a technique developed by Hans Clevers’s research group at the Hubrect Institute (Nature 459, 262–265, 2009). It involves growing stem cells in suspension and, using the right conditions, coaxing them to self-assemble into organized 3D clusters. Researchers have attempted to model all types of tissue, including the brain, with this technology, and for this initiative will embark on making organoids directly from a patient’s tumor. Because they are 3D, they are near-physiological models and reflect some of the characteristics present in that individual’s cancer (Cell 161 , 933–945, 2015). “We can make a tumor model from most patients,” says Robert Vries, managing director of the Hubrecht Organoid Technology Foundation. Additionally, the organoid cultures accommodate high throughput drug screening. That paves the way for creating panels potentially useful for testing patients’ responses to treatment. “That makes personalized medicine more than a word,” says Vries.
Source: Nature Biotechnology