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Brain organoids may advance personalized cancer care

February 5, 2020

man smiling by the ocean

What’s the best way to understand a patient’s specific cancer? Quickly recreate a facsimile outside his or her body. That appears to be the thinking behind Penn Medicine’s work to grow organoids from patients’ brain tumor tissue.

Researchers there are studying glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a difficult brain cancer to study and treat, largely because of tumor heterogeneity. GBM has an incidence of two to three per 100,000 adults per year, and accounts for 52 percent of all primary brain tumors.

According to Penn Medicine:

Lab-grown brain organoids — derived from human pluripotent stem cells or patient tissues and grown to a size no bigger than a pea — can recapitulate important genetic composition, brain cell type heterogeneity, and architecture, for example.

Unlike other models, which need more time to exhibit gene expression and other histological features that more closely represent the tumor, brain tumor organoids developed by the research group grow into use much more rapidly.

That’s important because current treatment regimens are typically initiated one month following surgery, so having a road map sooner is more advantageous.

Organoids developed from fresh tumor specimens

In a recent study, researchers at Penn Medicine removed fresh tumor specimens from 52 patients and grew corresponding tumor organoids in the lab, eight of which were implanted in mouse brains, where the tumor cells infiltrated surrounding brain tissue. Organoids were subjected to various therapies with varying responses, with “effectiveness … correlated to their genetic responses in patient tumors.”

The overall success rate for generating glioblastoma organoids (GBOs) was 91.4 percent, with 66.7 percent of tumors expressing the IDH1 mutation, and 75 percent for recurrent tumors, within two weeks, according to Penn Medicine. These tumor glioblastoma organoids can also be stored in a biobank and recovered later for analyses, researchers said.

Results of the work, detailed in the journal Cell, “highlight the potential for testing and treating glioblastomas with a personalized approach. The ultimate goal is to work towards a future where we can study a patient’s organoid and test which CAR T cell is going to be the best against their tumor, in real time,” said co-author Donald O’Rourke, MD. “A shorter-term goal, given the heterogeneity of glioblastomas, is that in vitro testing of various therapeutic options may also help refine patient enrollment in clinical trials, by more accurately defining mutations and selecting the appropriate, available targeted therapies for each.”

iSpecimen is a source for tumor tissue

This research shows the increasing power of human biospecimens to drive new processes that advance personalized medicine. Brain tumor tissue is one of the many human biospecimens available to research organizations through the iSpecimen Marketplace.

Learn about the iSpecimen Marketplace where you can browse millions of richly annotated, de-identified human tissue and biofluid biospecimens, in addition to hematopoietic and immune cell products. You can join for free and creating a login is easy. Request a quote or custom collection today.

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