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Culturing ovarian cancer organoids

Researchers from the UMC Utrecht and the Hubrecht Institute succeeded in developing a new platform for culturing ovarian cancer organoids (3-dimensional cell lines). Ovarian cancer is usually discovered at an advanced stage and has a poor prognosis.

Cancer in general is characterized by alterations in the genetic material of cancer cells. In ovarian cancer, these alterations are different between patients and even between distinct sites of cancer within one patient. After the initial treatment, which consists of a combination of surgery and chemotherapy, a disease-free period can usually be achieved. Unfortunately, the cancer has a tendency to recur and will in the end become resistant to all available drugs. Due to the differences in DNA-alterations it is difficult to predict if and when this resistance will occur.

In clinical practice the patient has to be treated to establish whether the tumor is still sensitive or has become resistant. Ideally, testing a new drug would be performed in the laboratory, prior to its use in a patient. Unfortunately setting up cancer cell cultures for drug testing has largely been unsuccessful.

In this new study 56 organoid lines from 32 patients have been established. Most clinical subtypes of ovarian cancer are represented. These new 3D cultures represent the tissue and DNA characteristics of the original tumor. The organoids can be genetically modified and transplanted in mice, providing new opportunities for further research in ovarian cancer. Furthermore, it proved possible to test organoids for chemotherapeutic and targeted drugs. The organoid lines showed, in conjunction with clinical practice, differences in response to these drugs. In some organoid lines the researchers were able to show the occurrence of drug resistance. This new platform can be used for further research and testing effectiveness of personalized systemic therapies for ovarian cancer.

(Publication in Nature Medicine NMED-RS89415C)

This research is made possible by KWF, het Gieskes Strijbis Fonds, Vrienden UMC Utrecht & Wilhelmina Kinderziekenhuis en Stand Up To Cancer.