Developing Targeted Cancer Treatments
Researchers at UVM are hard at work developing "targeted" chemotherapeutic agents for cancer. Targeted chemotherapeutic agents may be more effective than current treatments at fighting cancer, without the side effects.
How are they doing this?
Cancer researchers use patients' tumor cells (collected by biopsy). These tumor cells are used to establish the same tumor in immunodeficient mice. Because the mice lack key components of their immune system, they do not recognize the cells as being foreign, and hence the tumor will grow in the mice. The mice can then be used to ascertain the effectiveness of different chemotherapeutic drugs, or combinations of drugs, or to look at novel therapies such as antibodies "personalized" against a patient's specific tumor cell-surface antigens. For more information about this type of research, see Jen's Story, a video at the Foundation for Biomedical Research about a scientist, breast cancer, and her fight to find a cure through animal research.
Why are animals important?
These novel cancer therapies are initially tested in cell-culture systems. Only the most promising treatments or combinations of treatments are tested using animal models. However, before the treatments can be utilized in human beings, it is important (and required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) to observe how the therapies work in a whole-animal system. Even though scientists can learn a great deal using cell-culture systems, we still do not have the ability to replicate the complex environment of a living animal, with multiple organ systems, in culture.
What are the significant outcomes of this research?
Targeted cancer treatments are of particular value because they direct their activity against the specific cancer cells and spare non-cancerous cells. Many cancer treatments currently in use are toxic to rapidly multiplying cells. Although tumor cells are affected, so are other rapidly dividing cell types in the body. This broad toxicity is responsible for many of the devastating side effects of cancer chemotherapy. Targeted treatments will significantly improve cancer patients' quality of life.