Personalising treatments for the different ways that individual cancer cells respond

This project is about really delving into the nitty gritty detail of patient response to therapy – not only which drug works best for each patient, but which drugs work best for individual cells within each patient. The researchers hope to use this understanding to work out how to optimise a man’s treatment to kill as many of his cancer cells as possible.

Over the last 25 years, the team in York has perfected a technique for growing cancer cells straight from the patient in the laboratory. They’ve found that different populations of cells from the same patient respond differently to treatments like radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Their lead scientist believes that rather than drug resistance developing over time, some of the cells that are resistant to treatments like docetaxel chemotherapy are there from the very beginning. He thinks that these are the cells responsible for the cancer returning after an initial positive response to therapy.

Now they want to take these ideas one step further. They want to test a new type of microscopy that records video footage of live cells within a cancer sample, without having to manipulate the cells in any way to see the image clearly. They want to use this technique to look at how individual cells within a man’s prostate cancer respond to treatment over time. They will then use a special type of live cell labelling called ‘Smartflare’, which allows scientists to identify cells that have a particular gene or protein ‘turned on’ without either having to kill the cell, or alter the way it works first. By using this type of live-cell labelling, Professor Maitland and his team of scientists will be able to isolate and purify particular types of prostate cancer cell from the overall patient sample – for example the cells that are resistant to chemotherapy – to investigate further.

The research team will also use this near-patient system to test new and standard treatments, as well as combinations of treatments. They hope to show that it’s possible to predict which treatment combinations will be most effective for an individual man – based on a sample of his own cancer grown in the lab.

For the duration of this grant, the team will be perfecting these imaging and isolation techniques, and hope that within the three years of this grant, they will be able to develop a protocol to inform clinicians about the treatment strategy that’s likely to work best for each individual man.

Grant information

Reference - RIA15-ST2-022
Researcher - 
Professor Norman Maitland
Institution - University of York
Award - £536,625