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Mini-Tumors May Help Doctors Develop Personalized Mesothelioma Treatments

Doctors at Wake Forest University are using miniature lab-grown three dimensional tumors to test personalized mesothelioma treatments.

The mini-tumors are known as organoids and are grown from biopsy tissue taken from patients diagnosed with mesothelioma. Researchers say they can serve as models to try out new mesothelioma therapies before using them on patients.

“There is a need for model systems to help predict personalized responses to chemotherapeutics,” writes lead investigator Andrea R. Massocchi with the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

“We have microengineered 3D tumor organoids directly from fresh tumor biopsies to provide patient-specific models with which treatment optimization can be performed before initiation of therapy.”

Personalized Medicine and Malignant Mesothelioma

Precision medicine in an up-and-coming area of medicine that involves analyzing the genetic mutations underlying a patient’s cancer in order to “match” it with the chemotherapy drugs most likely to be effective.

However, as the authors of the new mesothelioma study acknowledge, even after mutations are identified, it is not easy to know exactly which drugs to use.


In the new report, researchers detail how they used mesothelioma cells to grow the 3D mini-mesothelioma tumors and keep them alive. They then developed mutation-specific drug combinations.

Finally, using these “tumors-on-a-chip” as the study calls them, scientists showed how the effectiveness of a particular drug combination in the lab mimicked the effectiveness of the same therapy in a mesothelioma patient.

“This patient-derived tumor organoid strategy is adaptable to a wide variety of cancers and may provide a framework with which to improve efforts in precision medicine oncology,” concludes the article in Scientific Reports.

Mesothelioma Tumors Present Special Challenges

The new, more precise approach could be especially valuable in the treatment of malignant mesothelioma, an aggressive, asbestos-linked cancer that is resistant to even the most powerful cancer treatments.

Even so, some mesothelioma therapies work well for some patients but have no effect at all on others.

Scientists believe that this variability can be blamed, in part, on genetic differences and that drugs tailored to the genetic profile of an individual patient’s cancer could be the key to combating mesothelioma and other malignancies.


Mazzocchi, AR, et al, “In vitro patient-derived 3D mesothelioma tumor organoids facilitate patient-centric therapeutic screening”, February 13, 2018, Scientific Reports

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