3D model of brain tumor environment could aid personalized treatment

Medicine doctor hand working with modern computer interface as concept

Glioblastoma, a rare but deadly brain cancer, is wickedly sturdy. Surgeons remove tumors only to see the cancer come back ferociously. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy have limited effects. About half of patients die within 18 months.

But now Virginia Tech scientists have developed a novel 3D tissue-engineered model of the glioblastoma tumor microenvironment that can be used to learn why the tumors return and what treatments will be most effective at eradicating them — right down to a patient-specific level.

The model and its development are described in a paper published July 29 in Nature Partner Journals Precision Oncology.

“Our goal is ultimately to develop a personalized medicine approach in which we can take a patient’s tumor, build a model of that tumor in a dish, test drugs on it, and tell a clinician which therapy will work best to treat it,” said Jennifer Munson, associate professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and the paper’s corresponding author.

The model is an important step to identify new markers and therapies for the cancer. Research using the new model has already identified a new measure for understanding a patient’s tumor, including the capability of the cancer cells to renew and differentiate themselves, which is an indicator of how the cancer will respond to drug treatments.

About 15,000 people a year are diagnosed with glioblastoma, according to the National Cancer Institute.

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