Weighing cancer cells to help with treatment decision-making and personalize drug choices.

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A new study shows a link between patient survival and changes in tumor cell mass after glioblastoma treatment.

Researchers at and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have developed a new way to determine whether individual patients will respond to a specific cancer drug or not. This kind of test could help doctors to choose alternative therapies for patients who don’t respond to the therapies normally used to treat their cancer.

The new technique, which involves removing tumor cells from patients, treating the cells with a drug, and then measuring changes in the cells’ mass, could be applied to a wide variety of cancers and drug treatments, says Scott Manalis, the David H. Koch Professor of Engineering in the departments of Biological Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, and a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

“Essentially all of the clinically used cancer drugs either directly or indirectly stop the growth of cancer cells,” Manalis says. “That’s why we think measuring mass could offer a universal readout of the effects of a lot of different types of drug mechanisms.”

The new study, which focused on glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, is part of a collaboration between the Koch Institute and Dana-Farber Precision Medicine programs to find new biomarkers and diagnostic tests for cancer.

Manalis and Keith Ligon, director of the Center for Patient Derived Models at Dana-Farber and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, are the senior authors of the study, which was published on October 5, 2021, in Cell Reports. The lead authors of the paper are Max Stockslager SM ’17, PhD ’20 and Dana-Farber research technician Seth Malinowski.

Glioblastoma, which is diagnosed in about 13,000 Americans per year, is incurable, but radiation and drug treatment can help to prolong patients’ expected lifespan. Most do not survive longer than one to two years.

“With this disease, you don’t have much time to make adjustments. So, if you take an ineffective drug for six months, that’s pretty significant,” Ligon says. “This kind of assay could help to speed up the learning process for each individual patient and help with decision-making.”

Patients diagnosed with glioblastoma are usually given a chemotherapy drug called temozolomide (TMZ). However, this drug only helps about 50 percent of patients.

Currently, doctors can use a genetic marker — methylation of a gene called MGMT — to predict whether patients will respond to TMZ treatment. Patients who have this marker usually respond better to the drug…. Brinkwire News Summary.

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