First instance of tumours being grown outside the body

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Scientists have had success with growing tumours outside the body. This is the first time this has been done in the UK.

Researchers based at East Anglia University (UEA) removed sections of bowel tumours from patients and placed them in test tubes with solutions that made them expand drastically.

The growths were then used for new drug testing.

The use of samples from a patient’s tumour implies that personalised treatment plans may be possible.

A senior lecturer in biomedicine at the university, Mark Williams, said they tested various chemotherapy drugs on the different bowel samples and tumours to try and discover the most toxic ones. He said that the use of healthy tissue will aid them in finding drugs which are able to kill cancer cells, but not the healthy cells. The fascinating aspect of the tests was that the researchers were able to see the different reactions of the tumours to the different drugs and that some were more receptive of the drugs than others.

Mr Williams said this could lead to the creation of personalised medication which means each patient will obtain the drugs that will work best for their condition. He added that a review of the genome sequences of the tumour and the stomach will allow them to determine patterns which will offer advance prediction of the aggressiveness of the tumour. He said that the ability to study but biology is a blessing and being able to grow tumours outside the body has revealed different avenues in their research. This is the first time tumours have been able to be retained for such long periods outside the human body.

This research has been active for about one year and is being used to assess the cases of about two cancer victims per week.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common UK cancer, following breast, lung and prostate.

Around 41600 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer annually, of which 80% are 60 years and older.

The survival rate for the cancer is 74% if it is diagnosed in its earliest stage, however once it has reached the advance stage, the survival rate fall to 6%.

This research is continuing.

Image Credit: CIAT

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