At present, there is no way to predict if multiple myeloma will respond to a particular drug cancer therapy, meaning clinicians often have to take a shot in the dark and hope that something works. Researchers at MIT have developed a new method to measure how well multiple myeloma patients will respond to a specific chemo agent, or combination of them.
The process involves using an incredibly sensitive apparatus that can weigh individual cancer cells. If the cells reduce the rate at which they gain mass when exposed to a chemo drug, then they are susceptible to it, and so should be a good fit for using as therapy. The technique can be used to test for susceptibility against a variety of chemo drugs from just one biopsy, and could pave the way for personalized cancer medicine.
Drug susceptibility tests for infectious disease, based on bacterial proliferation, have been around for a long time, but nothing similar exists for cancer cells. “For infectious diseases, antibiotic susceptibility testing based on cell proliferation has been extremely effective for many decades,” says Scott Manalis, a researcher involved in the study. “Unlike bacteria, analogous tests for tumor cells have been challenging, in part because the cells don’t always proliferate upon removal from the patient. The measurement we developed doesn’t require proliferation.”
The idea is simple in principle, but requires some very sensitive equipment that can weigh something as small as a cancer cell. The MTI team’s scale weighs individual cells as they flow through small channels over sensors called suspended microchannel resonators, and the system can measure between 50 and 100 cells per hour. The information revels the rate at which the cells gain mass. Recently, the team discovered that if a cell is exposed to a chemotherapeutic it is susceptible to, it gains mass more slowly, whereas if it is resistant to the drug it will not change its metabolism.
In their recent study, the team tested cells from multiple myeloma patients using a variety of chemo drugs and drug combinations, and then weighed them afterwards. They were able to accurately predict if patients were susceptible or resistant to specific drugs. The technique requires very few cells, so it is possible to test a wide variety of drugs and drug combinations on a sample from just one biopsy. To validate the approach, the research team have started a company to carry out a larger clinical study. They also have plans to see if the technique will work for other types of cancer.
Study in Nature Communications: Determining therapeutic susceptibility in multiple myeloma by single-cell mass accumulation…