Developing Faster And More Realistic Drug Screening Models

February 26, 2019

Blog by Andrew Satterlee, Research Fellow, ABC2

Scientists are constantly trying to discover better ways to treat patients, and one way some labs do this is by developing faster and more realistic drug screening models. 

Currently, a patient’s biopsied tumor cells may be screened for drug sensitivity on a plastic dish, but this does a poor job mimicking the brain environment.  Alternatively, a patient’s tumor cells may be implanted, grown, and treated in mice, but it may take six months or more for the tumors to grow. 

A recent study published in Nature combines the best of both worlds by growing tumor-bearing “mini brains” made of human-derived neurons, glial cells, astrocytes, and tumor cells over a time period of several weeks.  These small cell spheroids replicate several characteristics of brain tissue and have shown selective tumor cell killing when treated with common chemotherapies such as temozolomide.

ABC2 has funded and developed another promising screening model using “brain slices” made by growing tumor cells on live, thinly cut slices of rat or mouse brain.  Tumor cells have been shown to graft onto the live slices after just 24 hours, and just three days after implant, show significant differences in growth and invasion that recapitulate aspects of how those tumors grow in mice.  Tumor killing experiments also quickly discern differences in drug sensitivity among tumor types.

Both of these new drug screening platforms display distinct advantages over current methods.  Mini brains offer a model in which the tumor is fully integrated into the rest of the brain cells in the spheroid, while brain slices boast very quick resection-to-readout times in a real brain environment.  These models are on the leading edge of improving personalized drug screening and have potential to help match patients with the most effective therapies for their tumor.