Miniature tumors grown in a lab could soon allow doctors to tailor individualized treatments for cancer, according to Healthline.

Gene sequencing technology has allowed scientists to analyze the genetic makeup of tumors. But so far, they have limited knowledge of what drugs are best for the range of possible cancer mutations.

On February 25th, in the journal Communications Biology, researchers described a new way to solve this problem.

“We have lots of drugs available, but we have a hard time knowing who’s going to respond to which drug or to which drug combination,” said the study’s senior author, UCLA scientist Alice Soragni.

The researchers collected cancer cells from patients during surgery, and then processed the tissue to break it apart. After a few days in a lab, the cells had grown into mini-tumors, on which the researchers could test different drugs and concentrations of drugs.

“We now have a way to take cancer cells directly from a patient and grow these miniature tumors in a dish that are basically avatars of the patient’s tumor,” Soragni said.

The new study used ovarian and peritoneal cancer cells, though past research has used other methods to experiment with mini-tumors from bladder, bowel, and gastrointestinal cancers.

Most the procedure can be automated, and only takes about two weeks after collection of the cells.

“The results of the screening could potentially be available to the oncologist by the time the patient is recovered from surgery and ready to move forward with drug therapy,” according to Soragni.

A study from last year found that mini-tumors are quite accurate for testing what drugs will be effective against cancer in patients. But other researchers say large clinical tests, involving many patients, will be necessary to know how effective the method would be in terms of the accuracy of the tests and whether a few days of testing is enough.

According to Dr. Ron Bose, a medical oncologist from Washington University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the new study:

“While this was likely done for speed of testing, it has the potential of increasing false negatives, as some drugs may require more time for their effects to become measurable.”

It may take several years of testing before these methods become available for patients. But many researchers, including Bose, see reason for optimism.

Bose added:

“Being able to provide drug testing results on cancer samples within one week of surgery offers tremendous possibilities.”

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