Studies of Patient Biopsy Samples

biopsy specimens

Fluorescent probes indicate the presence of various proteins in multiple lung cancer specimens.

Researchers in the laboratories of Jeffrey Engelman, MD, PhD, and Cyril Benes, PhD, at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center could provide future cancer patients with new lifesaving therapies based on studies of tumor cells from their own cancer biopsies.

In a study reported in the journal Science in December 2014, researchers from the two laboratories described an innovative technique to grow significant quantities of cancer cells in the laboratory directly from biopsies of patient tumors.

This has allowed researchers to conduct genetic analyses of patient-derived tumor cells and then test the cells against a panel of nearly 100 targeted drugs—several that are FDA approved and many in various stages of development—both alone and in combination to see which has the greatest impact on slowing the growth of the cells.

Efforts of the Dream Team are also focused on studying patient tumor cells to understand the role of the immune system in lung cancer. Studying the immune cell components of an individual’s cancer may help researchers identify which cancers will respond best to an immunotherapy treatment. 

With further refinements, this new platform could make it practical to incorporate pharmacologic screening into clinical practice, enabling physicians to select the therapy most likely to work for individual cancer patients that will lead to remissions and improved quality of life for many cancer patients. “This screen was so effective that we think it warrants a serious effort to develop the technology for personalized treatment decision making,” says Dr. Engelman. 

The ability to grow cells directly from a biopsy of a patient’s tumor may lead to truly individualized treatment strategies for lung cancer patients.

Learn more about this study in "Targeting Cancer in a New Way," featuring 2015 honorees of "the one hundred," an awareness and fundraising initiative that celebrates hope in the cancer community.