Using mice to create an ‘Amazon’ menu of treatment...
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May 16, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Using mice to create an ‘Amazon’ menu of treatment options for cancer

Geneticist Carol Bult of Jackson Laboratory says specialized mice could be used to create a database of drugs to treat different tumours that would work like a search engine

OurWindsor.Ca

When Carol Bult was a little girl, her parents let her set up a lab on the basement ping-pong table.

Then, the 10-year-old devotee of television’s Jacques Cousteau and Mr. Wizard “just wanted to know how things work.”

But as a top Jackson Laboratory geneticist today, Bult sees her science as a calling of compassion as much as curiosity.

“I want to understand how cancer works so that we can ease the suffering this complex disease causes,” she says.

To that end, Bult is using specialized Jackson mice to help build a computer knowledge base that would work like Amazon.com for physicians seeking optimal cancer cares.

The animals she uses most often, so-called bubble mice, were genetically engineered to lack an immune system and have no ability to reject foreign invaders such as viruses, bacteria — or transplanted human tumours.

Indeed many kinds of human tumours grow readily in the animals, whose bodies supply the complex blood vessel networks needed to nourish them.

This has made tumour-engrafted mice, also known as PDX mice, amazingly useful tools for studying cancers in live organisms, and for testing treatments.

But in a world of personalized medicine, the mice might also help provide a revolutionary new diagnostic device.

Because tumours have different genetic signatures, they respond differently to medications. A tumour’s specific genetics can dictate which drugs work and at what dosages.

One way to determine what works, Bult says, would be to transplant an individual patient’s cancerous tissue into a group of the immunodeficient mice and try a different set of treatment options on each animal.

But this strategy would likely be too expensive and time-consuming to use on every cancer patient.

Better, she says, would be to use mice to create a computerized menu of drugs and dosages that physicians could choose from to treat individuals.

This would involve assessing the genetic signatures of a wide variety of cancers and implanting each into a group of mice. Mice in each group would be treated with various drugs to determine which worked best for their cancers.

And this information would be fed into a computer program accessible to any cancer specialist.

These physicians could then match the genetic signature of a patient’s cancer with one in the database and choose the most promising treatment option.

“When a new patient comes along, you’ll get the genome signature of their tumour,” Bult says. “And you’ll plug that into the database and it will work like Amazon.com. It will say, ‘Tumours with your signature responded best’” to a given set of drugs.

Drug responses in PDX mice have been shown to closely mirror those in humans.

“I think if we can remove some of the uncertainty from cancer care therapy options, it would be a huge contribution,” says Bult.

Toronto Star

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