Towards better brain cancer treatment with novel in vitro models and fewer animal experiments

Bjarne Winther Kristensen 

The number of animals used for development of novel cancer therapies has been increasing the last decade. This is also the case for brain cancer, where cancer cells are implanted directly into the brains of the animals. In cancer research it is of major importance that novel drugs are efficient on the tumor cells migrating into the brain as well as on cancer stem cells thought to be the origin of brain cancer. It is therefore important that novel cell-based models preserve in vivo-like tumor cell migration and cancer stemness.

The aim of the project is to investigate whether two novel cell-based models can replace animal experiments. In the first model human cancer cells will be implanted into slices of mice brains. It will be investigated how the cells migrate and how the presence of cancer stem cells is. In the second model it will be investigated how the cancer cells migrate on a surface in a culture medium preserving cancer stem cells. The results will be compared with results from earlier experiments, where cancer cells have been implanted directly into the brains of the mice. New animal experiments will not be performed.

Besides the ethical problems with animal experiments, the results of the project may lead to cheaper and faster experiments with novel cancer drugs using novel cell-based models. The results of the project may therefore both improve animal welfare and cancer research.

Project status at January 2017

The first series of testing with both models has shown how cancer cells spread rapidly, just as in the brain. The results also show that the stem-cell characteristics of the cancer cells are largely preserved, which would apparently make the models highly valuable research tools as they can help prevent animal testing to a greater degree.

The first set of results from the project was recently published in Journal of Neurooncology (2016, 130(1):53-62) and PLOS ONE (2016, 11(7) e159746). The next project phase will focus on whether the molecular mechanisms governing cancer-cell characteristics match the existing knowledge of cancer-cell migration. This would further strengthen the applicability of the models.

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