World’s First Living Biobank Brings Personalized Treatments to Cancer Patients

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In a move that may revolutionize the way cancer patients are treated, UK scientists recently created the world’s first “living biobank” to store samples of patients’ tumor tissues and determine the most promising drugs for each individual patient’s disease.

According to the Guardian, geneticists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge take tiny biopsies of patients' tumors, growing them into clumps of cells and keeping these cells alive in the biolab.
According to the Guardian, geneticists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge take tiny biopsies of patients’ tumors, growing them into clumps of cells and keeping these cells alive in the biolab.

According to the Guardian, geneticists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge take tiny biopsies of patients’ tumors, growing them into clumps of cells and keeping these cells alive in the biolab. Researchers are then able to observe and perform experiments on the cancerous cells’ mutations, subjecting them to more than 80 anti-cancer drugs.

Researchers at the Sanger Institute say this biobank offers up unique opportunities to study the way cancerous cells might be treated most effectively, as these organoids closely mimic the genetic makeup and composition of real cancerous tissue.

“The beautiful thing here is that we’ve shown we can grow these organoids in the lab, and they look a lot like the tissue from which they were taken, so they should be much better models for studying cancer,” said Mathew Garnett, a researcher at the Sanger Institute.

These 3D organoids come from both cancerous and healthy tissue biopsies, taken from 20 patients diagnosed with bowel cancer. Each of these patients has had surgery to remove their tumors and aren’t undergoing further treatments.

While doctors typically treat bowel cancer with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, some patients respond better to anti-cancer drugs. The Sanger Institute’s biolab will allow researchers to pinpoint which types of cancerous tissue are most receptive to treatment via these drugs. Its researchers say they are just a few years off from being able to develop personalized treatments for cancer patients by studying their cancer tissue.

Biobanks are a relatively recent innovation in the medicinal research field, with almost two-thirds of biobanks established in the last 10 years — however, 17% of biobanks were established more than 20 years ago. Additionally, no biobank has been considered a “living biobank” until now.

“This opens up amazing opportunities to ask questions about the biology of the patients’ tumours, the genetics of their tumours, and to see how that patient might respond to different cancer drugs,” Garnett explained.

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