Although we talk about Cancer as one disease, we now know that all cancers are different. Even within the same type of Primary Bone Cancer, one person’s bone cancer may be very different to another’s. This means that treatment for one group of patients won’t necessarily work for another. One of the main drawbacks in cancer research has been the lack of laboratory tools that represent the true complex nature of tumours in patients. This has impacted our understanding of cancer biology and drug development, and unfortunately, sometimes resulted in findings in the lab that aren’t always reproduced in the clinic.

We need efficient models that can represent and behave very similarly to each patient’s original tumour, that will allow researchers to predict which current and future therapies would work best for each patient.

To develop a methodology through which it will be possible to study osteosarcoma within its natural environment, Professors Sibylle Mittnacht and Wenhui Song, from University College London, have teamed up to combine their skills and experience in tissue engineering and cancer research.

What are the aims of this research project?

The PhD research project will make use of front line innovative tissue engineering technology to propagate human osteosarcoma cancers within their natural setting, yet outside a patient’s body. The goal is to generate a realistic and reliable tool for drug testing and to increase the speed and means of searching for new and more effective medicines.

A further partner is Dr Sandra Strauss, a clinical oncologist who treats patients with osteosarcoma; she will provide her expertise on how these tumours mirror those inside the body. This way of collaborating will allow potential treatments to be tested and determine their effectiveness before they are given to the patient.

A second aim is to use the technology to study how osteosarcoma cancers begin and what causes them.

Although the overarching goal of this project is to generate a realistic model for the study of osteosarcoma. If successful, it could be extended to other forms of primary bone cancer, as the search continues for new and more effective medicines.

How could this project improve treatment options for osteosarcoma patients?

As with all rare cancers, there are great difficulties to conduct robust clinical trials that could help improve treatment and there is recognised need for the development of models that faithfully replicates the way osteosarcoma develops and grow in patients.

If successful, this approach will allow researchers to gain a deeper understanding of how osteosarcoma tumours develop and grow. Importantly, the methodology will also be used to propagate patient-derived cancers with the main purpose of using these “patient grafts” for testing their response to current and potentially new treatments, in order to find the most optimal route of treatment for each patient.

The Bone Cancer Research Trust would like to thank the Clive and Sylvia Richards Charity for helping to make this project a reality.

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