‘Virtual Tumor’ Personalize Cancer Treatment
The computer simulations – or “virtual tumors” – are the result of a collaboration between researchers at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry and a private company Cellworks Group Inc.
Many cancers are able to avoid attack from a patient’s immune system by overriding their “immune checkpoints” – molecules on immune cells that need to be activated or silenced to start an immune response.
Immunotherapy drugs that target these checkpoints hold a lot of promise as cancer treatments. They are often made of antibodies that unleash an attack on the cancer cells.
The researchers believe they can increase the effectiveness of the drugs by making them specific to the genetic makeup of the individual tumor’s cells.
To develop the approach, they first take the genetic information from a patient’s cancer cell and load it into the simulation to predict the responses of certain immune checkpoints to particular drugs.
They then grow live cells in the lab with the same genetic makeup and see if the drug produces the same reaction in the cells’ immune checkpoints.
If the responses from the virtual tumor and the real live cells match, then the team has identified a treatment that will work for that individual patient.
If the results are different, then more work needs to be done to align the model to the live cells.