The researchers found they could do this by growing human tumour cells in mice before taking the cells out to run further tests using experimental drugs.
Cells grown in this way more accurately mimic how cancer cells grow in a person’s body and closely reflect the genetic faults found in patients’ cancer cells. This method means more drugs could be tested at the same time and in different combinations, potentially shortening the time it takes to make new drugs available to patients.
The project is one of many funded by Cancer Research UK that look at ways to reduce the number of mice used in experiments while making drug testing more accurate.
This new technique means that researchers can carry out hundreds of drug tests after removing the cancer cells from mice. It is set to replace current practice of growing cancer cells on plastic dishes and transferring them to mice to carry out tests — an approach which has limitations because tumour cells grow differently in a plastic dish than in the human body.
Professor Carlos Caldas, lead author based at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute at the University of Cambridge, said: “Traditionally, we’ve grown cells on plastic dishes but this is artificial because cells in the body grow in a more complicated way. In the future, this new technique, and others like it, will replace the methods used in the lab today.
“We’re making all our data publically available so that other researchers around the world can use and benefit from our work and we’ll continue to improve it.”
Nell Barrie, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information manager, said: “Finding new ways to test potential drugs more accurately and efficiently is really important in the fight against cancer. Studies like this could help us find new treatments more quickly and might also help identify the best combinations of drugs for particular groups of patients, ensuring more people survive the disease.”