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The one hundred honoree: Patient-Derived Models Research Team

Innovation Story

The one hundred honoree: Patient-Derived Models Research Team

Mass General Giving

The work of six research technicians in the laboratory of Jeffrey Engelman, MD, PhD, at the Mass General Cancer Center could provide future cancer patients with new life-saving therapies based on studies of tumor cells from their own cancer biopsies.

Drugs that target specific proteins and signaling pathways have led to remissions and improved quality of life for many cancer patients. In most cases, however, the effects are not permanent because tumors eventually become resistant to the drugs. Technicians Richard Dicecca, Maria Gomez-Caraballo, Anuj Kalsy, Dana Lee, Elizabeth Lockerman and Melissa Parks have worked with Dr. Engelman, Cyril Benes, PhD, and others to tackle the problem of acquired resistance to targeted therapies.

The young technicians developed an innovative technique to grow significant quantities of cancer cells in the laboratory directly from the biopsies of patients with drug-resistant tumors. In a study described in the prestigious journal Science in December 2014, the Mass General researchers conducted genetic analyses of patient-derived tumor cells and then tested the cells against a panel of more than 70 targeted drugs (some FDA-approved and others under development) and drug combinations. The results revealed effective new drug combinations and previously unknown mechanisms of drug resistance that would not have been found by genetic analysis alone.

With further refinements, the new platform developed by Richard, Maria, Anuj, Dana, Elizabeth, Melissa and their colleagues could make it practical to incorporate pharmacologic screening into clinical practice, enabling physicians to select the therapy most likely to work for individual cancer patients who have developed drug-resistant disease.