Scientists start biobank with living breast cancer cells

11 December 2017

Scientists of the Hubrecht Institute and the UMC Utrecht have set up a biobank with living tumor cells of more than 150 breast cancer patients. The biobank enables research into tissues and genetic features of breast cancer tumors (organoids), and gives rise to information regarding the specific characteristics of breast cancer.

This way, the mechanism of action of various medicines can be tested in a personal way, without directly exposing the patient to the treatment. That is written in a publication in Cell. 

Breast cancer is the most occurring type of cancer in women – it accounts for more than one fifth of all cancer cases. Worldwide, one million women are affected by the disease. In women between 30 and 59 years, it is the most common cause of death.

Personalized medicine

More than twenty distinct forms of breast cancer exist. Moreover, by researching the DNA of these cancer cells, hundreds of genetic variations are discovered. All of these contribute to the development and characteristics of the tumor, but are different in each patient. Current treatments do not have an effect in all patients and still use these characteristics only to a certain extent. Therefore, there is a need for personalized treatments.

Living tumor cells

Scientists, led by prof. dr. Hans Clevers (Hubrecht Institute) and prof. dr. Edwin Cuppen (UMC Utrecht), started a biobank with organoids of more than 100 different breast cancers. These organoids are cultivated from live tumor cells that have been harvested from breast cancer patients during surgery. All breast cancer organoids were characterized regarding tissue type and genetic features.

The organoids offer researchers the possibility to test a broad spectrum of possible therapies per individual patient in the laboratory, and couple these to genetic features. Because this drug research takes place in the organoid and not in the patient’s body, this testing method is fast and safe. Also, the patient experiences no side effects and many medicines can be tested in the same fashion.

More information

Website Hubrecht Institute

The Hubrecht Institute is a research institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Presently there are 20 research groups with a total of about 200 employees. In addition to a highly interactive and international scientific environment, excellent research facilities are available for imaging and functional genomics. Moreover, several model organisms are present, including C. elegans, zebrafish and mice. The institute is situated in Utrecht at the university centre De Uithof. The Hubrecht Institute is affiliated with the University Medical Center Utrecht and has close connections with Utrecht University, e.g. in the Graduate School Cancer Genomics and Development Biology.

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