Ex vivo culture of circulating breast tumor cells for individualized testing of drug susceptibility

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Science  11 Jul 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6193, pp. 216-220
DOI: 10.1126/science.1253533

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Staying one step ahead of tumors

Cancer treatments require continual adjustment. A drug that works initially will lose its potency as the tumor acquires new mutations that allow it to bypass the drug's lethal effects. To stay ahead of the tumor, oncologists need a noninvasive way to collect tumor cells from patients over the course of their treatment. Analyzing the mutations in these samples may help them choose the right drugs as the tumors change. In a small study of breast cancer patients, Yu et al. show that rare tumor cells circulating in the blood can be captured in viable form and used for this purpose.

Science, this issue p. 216


Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are present at low concentrations in the peripheral blood of patients with solid tumors. It has been proposed that the isolation, ex vivo culture, and characterization of CTCs may provide an opportunity to noninvasively monitor the changing patterns of drug susceptibility in individual patients as their tumors acquire new mutations. In a proof-of-concept study, we established CTC cultures from six patients with estrogen receptor–positive breast cancer. Three of five CTC lines tested were tumorigenic in mice. Genome sequencing of the CTC lines revealed preexisting mutations in the PIK3CA gene and newly acquired mutations in the estrogen receptor gene (ESR1), PIK3CA gene, and fibroblast growth factor receptor gene (FGFR2), among others. Drug sensitivity testing of CTC lines with multiple mutations revealed potential new therapeutic targets. With optimization of CTC culture conditions, this strategy may help identify the best therapies for individual cancer patients over the course of their disease.

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