In Short: New study has developed a platform to rapidly test the effectiveness of therapies for breast cancer metastasis.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. The lump formed in breast cancer is generally removed by surgery and at this stage it is easily treatable. However, if it spreads to other parts of the body, it is very difficult to treat. The main reason that cancer is so serious is its ability to spread to distant parts of the body. This spreading of cancer from its primary location to distant parts of the body is scientifically termed as metastasis.
Clinically, what we are desperately trying to treat are these disseminated cancer cells that have reached distant organs like bone, brain or the lung. Different organs have different environments and hence influences the cancer cells in a way that differ their therapeutic responses. There isn’t still an efficient experimental platform to recapitulate these differences. In this study, we sought to develop one.
Method and Science
In this pioneer study, what we have done is to invent a system called “bone-in-culture array”, to address the problem mentioned above. We did this by fragmenting mouse bones pre-loaded with breast cancer cells. What it allows us to do, is to mimic and maintain the interaction between cancer cells and bone cells for several weeks outside the body of an animal. This way, we can do a number of experiments that have not been previously possible. For example, in terms of drug screening, we can simultaneously test several drugs and identify ones that can selectively kill the cancer cells with minimal side-effects. This would dramatically accelerate the process of identifying drug related toxicity and outcomes in pre-clinical stage.
In this study, we had focused on breast cancer models but it is entirely possible to apply the same methodology on other cancers as well.
We expect to be able to identify drugs that specifically target cancer cells in the bone. In fact we’ve already found a number of new drug candidates. Hopefully in collaboration with clinicians, we will be able to quickly move the selected drugs to clinical trials to eradicate established bone metastasis or prevent the primary cancer cells from developing a bone metastasis.
Research article: Bone-in-culture array as a platform to model early-stage bone metastases and discover anti-metastasis therapies. Nat. Comm.,2017, 8:15045. http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms15045
Dr. Hai Wang is the first author of this study. He is a research associate in the breast cancer unit at the Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, US