Case-by-case screening of cancer drugs

Press release / May 22, 2000

Fraunhofer researchers developed a fast screening method with reliable results that allows doctors to establish a cancer patient's response to different drugs even before choosing and commencing a course of therapy.

Originating metastasing mamma-carcinoma cells from patient-specific malignent pleural biopsy.

Cytostatics are drugs that suppress the growth of cancer cells by inhibiting cell division. However, not every chemotherapy treatment achieves the same results for every patient. Some patients may respond very well to a substance, while in other cases tumor cells may be resistant. In-vitro cytostatic tests are a method for determining which drugs or combinations of drugs will be effective for individual patients, before beginning treatment. But the procedures used at present are time-consuming and their detection limits are low. Together researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart and the firm In-Vitro Biotec GmbH have developed a much faster screening technique, which produces more reliable results.

The choice of appropriate drugs is extremely difficult since each patient reacts differently to the substances. The greatest danger is that tumor cells grow resistant to the medication in the course of chemotherapy, with the result that the treatment has no effect and cancer cells continue to multiply unhindered. “The aim of screening is to test the patient's response to different drugs before treatment even begins,“ explains Dr. Thomas Graeve of the IGB. Samples of cancerous cells are taken through biopsy of the patient's tumor and are cultivated in-vitro in the laboratory. The reprocessed cells are preserved in a nutrient solution. “The various drugs can then be tested on these cultures,“ adds Dr. Graeve. In a short period of time the test can be evaluated and the effectiveness of the potential treatments analyzed: “If cells are alive, the product was ineffective, the patient resistant. If, in contrast, the tumor cells are dead, the drug is effective,“ informs Dr. Graeve.

The advantage of case-by-case in-vitro prediagnosis is that it enables physicians to select the appropriate therapy at an early stage and thus considerably improves the patient's quality of life by avoiding cycles of ineffective therapy. Moreover, the need for additional and costly therapy sequences can be minimized.