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Revolutionary Biobank of HNC Organoids: A Step Towards Personalized Cancer Treatment

Head and neck cancer (HNC) is a blanket term used to describe several types of cancer, including the most common form called head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). While HNC patients can be treated with a combination of surgery, radiotherapy, and/or chemotherapy, treatment is not always effective, and the genetic makeup of the tumor differs greatly between patients. As a result, there is an urgent need for better biomarkers to determine the most effective treatment for each patient and improve prognosis.

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In a recently published paper in the journal Med, researchers from the UMC Utrecht have taken a significant step towards personalized cancer treatment by setting up a biobank of HNC organoids. These miniature versions of patient tumors, grown in the lab, provide a better model that accurately reflects tumor variability in patients. The goal of the biobank is to use the organoids to guide personalized treatment decisions in the clinic.

The team collected tumor tissue from HNC patients and grew organoids from the patient tissues, confirming that the 'mini tumors' closely resembled the patient tumors, as they retained the same histological and genetic features. After treating the organoids with several therapy types, the researchers measured treatment efficacy by determining how many cells in the organoids died and correlated this with treatment response in patients.

The team showed that the organoid response resembled treatment responses in patients for radiotherapy and chemoradiotherapy, with the latter having a radiosensitizing effect on the tumor cells. The researchers also discovered that the drug cetuximab made the tumor organoids less sensitive to radiotherapy, which has implications for HNC patients receiving this combination treatment.

Furthermore, the team found that a PRMT5 inhibitor, a novel drug already in clinical trials for other cancer types, could be effective for a subgroup of HNC patients. By sequencing the DNA of the organoids, the researchers found that tumors with loss of the gene CDKN2A were responsive to treatment with this novel drug.

The results of this study highlight the clinical relevance of organoids derived from patient tumor tissue and provide a promising avenue for personalized cancer treatment. One of the next steps would be to design a clinical trial to use the organoids to guide treatment decisions in HNC patients. With continued progress in this area, patients could receive more effective and personalized treatment options for HNC and other types of cancer in the future.

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