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A new platform for cancer diagnostics and drug testing

Göran Landberg

Parts of tumor tissue, which is normally discarded in cancer surgery, bear information about the disease, and studies at the University of Gothenburg show that this has been unexploited.

This finding has now formed the basis for a new experimental platform for cancer diagnostics, prognoses and testing cancer drugs. The study published by the research group to date, in the journal Biomaterials, relates to breast cancer. Ongoing studies of colon, ovarian and other cancers also show positive results for the new technological platform and strategy.

Studied the supporting structure

In the breast cancer study, instead of looking at tumor cells, the scientists studied the supporting structure (the “extracellular matrix”, ECM).

“Normally,” he says, “we investigate tumor cells and get rid of the rest. Here, we do the reverse. What we look at are the extracellular matrices, and early on we found major differences among tumors from different patients. These differences were discoverable only from analyses of the ECMs,” says Anders Ståhlberg, Associate Professor of Molecular Medicine, one of the two people primarily responsible for the study and platform.

The scientists were able, for instance, to predict the risk of a recurrence of breast cancer, by studying the properties of the ECMs in various patients’ tissues. This was done by allowing cancer cell lines to grow in the matrices and then analyze how the scaffold affects them.

“Our results have clear connections with clinical parameters, such as how aggressive a tumor is. We’re now working on finding out which parts of the ECMs affected specific cancer-specific properties. The technology works, and we’ve been able to show that this is a superb experimental platform with major clinical potential,” says Göran Landberg, Professor of Pathology, and the other driving force for the research.

Drug testing

Besides diagnostics and prognoses for the course of a cancer disease, the scientists see drug testing as an important area for the new platform. A drug candidate can then be tested in several individuals’ surgically removed tissue, to explore its potential efficacy in various patients with cancer.

The purpose of the model is to ascertain which patients will benefit from a treatment before it is commenced. Another advantage is that the use of animal testing can decrease.

Source: The University of Gothenburg/Margareta Gustafsson Kubista

Photo of Göran Landberg: Johan Wingborg