Bern scientists develop individualized cancer models to predict therapy success

Scientists at the University of Bern and Inselspital have established organoid culture models from prostate tumor biopsies. These are small clusters of cells which can be used to test the efficacy of various drugs, helping to test which treatment will most likely benefit individual patients.

In the EU alone, 78,800 men died of prostate cancer in 2020. While tumors discovered at an early stage can often be completely removed by surgery and radiation therapy, the prospects of successful treatment are reduced if the cancer has further metastasized. At present, physicians cannot predict drug response or therapy resistance in patients.

A team from Urology Research Laboratory at the Department for BioMedical Research (DBMR) of the University of Bern and the Inselspital has developed a new strategy for the generation of prostate cancer organoids that can contribute to assess therapy response.

The team first generated a novel early stage, patient derived xenograft that is treatment naïve, then tested 74 different drugs on organoids from this and other experimental tumor models, identifying 13 compounds that reduced prostate cancer cell viability.

The efficacy of these compounds was then tested on organoids from five prostate cancer patients – two with early-stage tumors and three with advanced metastatic tumors. Interestingly, using ponatinib, so far approved for the treatment of leukemia, proved to be particularly effective in reduction of organoid viability and tumor growth in vivo.

Paving the way for personalized medicine

“In my clinical activity, I am regularly confronted by tumors that do not respond to therapy or for which we do not know which therapy to use”, says Prof Thalmann from the Urology Department of the Inselspital. “This is a further step in the direction of individualized medicine, where we might be able to tailor the treatment to the tumor during the course of the disease and better understand its biology.”

With this approach, the researchers from Bern hope to treat patients more efficiently with less side effects and diminished costs.

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