New Technique Tests Therapies for Cancer Metastasis
By Labmedica International staff writers
Posted on 10 May 2017
Image: Dr. Xiang Zhang implementing the bone-in-culture array, a platform to model early-stage bone metastases and discover the fate of cancer cells (Photo courtesy of Baylor College of Medicine).
A new laboratory technique has been developed that can rapidly test the effectiveness of treatments for life-threatening, breast cancer metastases in bone. Until now, there has not been an effective laboratory platform to study metastatic tumors in their new microenvironment.
In the clinic, primary breast tumors are usually surgically removed soon after diagnosis, leaving patients ‘tumor-free’. However, 20% to 40% of breast cancer survivors will eventually suffer metastasis to distant organs, sometimes years after surgery. To mimic the interactions between metastatic breast cancer cells and bone cells in a living system, a test has been developed, called bone-in culture array, by fragmenting mouse bones that already contain breast cancer cells.
Scientists at the Baylor College of Medicine and their colleagues determined that the bone-in culture maintains the micro-environmental characteristics of bone metastasis in living animal models, and the cancer cells maintain the gene expression profile, the growth pattern and their response to therapies. Using the bone-in model, the investigators determined that the drug danusertib preferentially inhibits bone metastasis. They also found that other drugs stimulate the growth of slow-growing cancer cells in the bone. In addition to determining the effect of drugs in the growth of metastasis in bone, the bone-in culture can be used to investigate mechanisms involved in bone colonization by cancer cells.
In the future, the scientists expect to develop this platform into a standardized system that can be used in the clinic to find specific drugs that can better treat metastatic cancer. Xiang Zhang, PhD, an associate professor of molecular and cellular biology and lead investigator said, “We have created a system in which we can mimic the interactions between cancer cells and bone cells, as bone is the place where breast cancer, and many other cancers too, disseminates most frequently. We have developed a system that allows us to test many different drug responses simultaneously to discover the therapy that can selectively act on metastatic cancer cells and minimize the effect on the bone.” The study was published on April 21, 2017, in the journal Nature Communications.