Mouse ‘avatars’ could in future allow physicians to find the most effective cocktail of cancer drugs to combat a particular tumour before giving them to a patient, according to researchers at the annual meeting of the Human Genome Organisation (HUGO) in Australia last week.
“Using a personalized cancer avatar makes it possible to try out different combinations and make some mistakes before going into the clinic,” says Edison Liu, president of HUGO and head of the Jackson Laboratory at Bar Harbor in Maine. “It’s the direction in which a lot of research groups are going.”
An ‘avatar’ is a term informally used by cancer researchers to describe a mouse or other animal onto which tissue from a human tumour is grafted to create a personalized model of one patient’s cancer. In one example of this approach, cancer researcher Sean Grimmond of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, with his colleagues from the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Genome Initiative, analysed a patient’s pancreatic tumour to identify mutations that make the cancer susceptible to particular drugs. The researchers then created a personalized mouse model of that specific pancreatic cancer by xenografting a piece of the patient’s tumour onto immunodeficient mice. This allowed them to test the tumour’s response to the drug mitomycin C, which their initial analysis had shown might be an effective treatment for the patient’s cancer. Reporting their preliminary results at the meeting in Sydney, the researchers found that the tumours shrank after the mouse was administered the drug; however, the patient died before he could be treated with it.