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Patient-Derived Organoids Predict Chemotherapy Efficacy for Pancreatic Cancer

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Patient-derived cancer organoids are miniature tumors grown in the lab from donated tissue. A study presented by Dr. Matthew Weiss, professor at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research and deputy physician-in-chief and director of the surgical oncology program at Northwell Cancer Institute, has shown how these organoids can be generated from patients – regardless of the tumor stage – and used to predict chemotherapy efficacy.

Technology Networks had the pleasure of talking to Weiss to learn more about patient-derived organoids and how these disease models could be used to develop personalized treatment strategies for pancreatic cancer.

Kate Robinson (KR): Why are organoids relevant to personalized medicine?

Matthew Weiss (MW): Everyone’s genetic and cellular makeup is unique. Patient-derived organoids are truly the definition of personalized care in the 21st century. The idea is that we take a patient’s cancer, grow it in the lab and test to see which type of chemotherapy is most effective for that individual tumor. Based on the genetic makeup of your own self, different drugs or combinations of drugs will work better in fighting the cancer. There is no one-size-fits-all care approach, particularly for cancer, and these organoids are a major step in treatment to help patients battling cancer to get better quicker, with fewer side effects, and get back to being cancer-free.  

KR: How are organoids generated from patients?

MW: The first step to patient-derived organoids is getting a biopsy of the cancerous tumor growing in the body. We do this either through a surgical procedure or by removing part of the tumor with a needle. We then take this cancerous tissue, bring it to the lab and run a battery of tests, including DNA sequencing. In a petri-dish-like setup, scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory grow the organoids and begin to test which chemotherapy is most effective to kill cancer. Once we understand which drug or combination of drugs are best, our goal is to deliver that individualized treatment to the person. 

KR: Why is the finding that organoids can be produced from patients with any stage of pancreatic cancer important?

MW: This is the largest single institutional series of patient-derived organoids for pancreatic cancer reported to date. We delivered successful organoid generation in more than 70 percent of the tissue samples we collected and it did not matter if the patient had already received chemotherapy. This proof-of-concept experiment now sets the stage for future studies which can impact everyday clinical care one day. 

KR: How do you envision that your findings will impact the future of pancreatic cancer treatment?

MW: Current national guidelines favor the administration of systemic chemotherapy prior to surgery in most patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. However, currently we have no way of tailoring those therapies for an individual patient. My goal is that a patient will walk into my office and within a few weeks we will have them on personalized, highly-effective chemotherapy, so that we can increase our chances of surgically removing their tumor. With the potential organoids hold, we will be able to deliver better care quicker, with a personalized approach to optimize the likelihood of cure. 

Matthew Weiss, MD, FACS, was speaking to Kate Robinson, Editorial Assistant for Technology Networks.