Aalto University: Novel 3D matrix will allow predictive and effective breast cancer treatment

The extracellular matrix keeps the structure of the tumor tissues unchanged and thereby allows correct and personalized drug identification.

Researchers at Aalto and Helsinki universities have developed an extracellular matrix that stabilises tumour samples, allowing them to be used in compound screening and personalised medicine.

The Finnish innovation agencyTekes has awarded €500,000 for the two universities to develop and commercialise the product, to enhance drug discovery and personalised medicine approaches.

“By combining cutting edge nanotechnology and advanced cancer biology, we have successfully developed extracellular matrix, a material that mimics the cellular environment of the cancer tissues, keeping the structure of the tumour tissues unchanged and alive for a couple of weeks’ time and thereby allowing correct and personalised drug identification for cancer treatment,” said researcher Nonappa from Aalto University.

“The 3D matrix not only maintains tissue identity, but also the heterogeneity of the tumour, which is a key feature required in a preclinical model to predict correctly the real drug responses and thus accelerate the process of developing more effective treatments for breast cancer,” said Pauliina Munne from the University of Helsinki.

Need for individualised treatments

In Finland, there are 5,000 new breast cancer patients each year, while globally one in every eight women is diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite significant improvements in the five-year survival rates after detection, it remains one of the leading causes of death in women.

“We have failed to treat breast cancer with the current one-size-fits-all treatment approaches. The present preclinical models, including cell lines and animal tests are faulty, too simplistic and poorly predictive. This is due to their insufficient ability to mimic the original tumour cellular identity and heterogeneity,” said Nonappa.

Tumours consist of diverse cell types, but when a tumour sample is cultured in a laboratory, only certain cell types will survive. The rest will either die or transform to another cell type. Drug response studies are usually performed using immortalised cell lines, which represent only one or a few cell types. “These models are poorly predicting the drug responses in patient, which is evident from the high number of failed drugs in clinical trials,” said Munne.

The commercialisation team consists of an inter-disciplinary team, including the materials science group from Aalto University and breast cancer experts from the University of Helsinki, together with an established network run between the hospital district of Helsinki and Uusimaa, which provides tumour samples.



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