If you are suffering from a cancerous tumor then this is a highly distressing and upsetting experience. It’s incredibly frightening and it affects far more areas of your life than just your health. To this end you will likely be doing everything in your power to try and find a solution. This may mean that you are looking into the vast range of methods and lesser known techniques, and as there is currently no hard and fast ‘cure’ for cancer, there are multiple different treatments available that can offer different advantages to different people (as long as they are founded in science).
If you are currently researching into your options then you might have heard of tumor models, or more technically ‘patient-derived xenograft tumor models’. So what does this mean and how might it be of help? Here we will look at what this means.
First of all we will look at what a ‘patient-derived xenograft’ means. It is possible to work this out by breaking down the word. ‘Xeno’ means ‘other’ or ‘other species’ and this is where the word ‘xenophobia’ comes from (meaning fear of other species/races). A graft on the other hand we all know is when something is attached to something else.
In a xenograft then a graft is taken from you and then attached to an animal from another species. The graft in this case is taken from your tumor, so in other words a sample of your tumor is removed surgically and then attached to an animal test subject – usually a mouse.
This might sound like science fiction, but actually it’s even more complex than that. You see normally if you were to graft foreign tissue onto an animal subject, its own immune system would fight the graft and would then reject it from its body as it would recognize it as a ‘foreign’ material. To this end then the mice are actually first genetically modified which is achieved using gene doping. Here the mouse is altered so that its immune system is turned off, meaning that its body will accept anything grafted to it. These mice are sometimes referred to as ‘nude mice’ because their hair tends to fall out as a result of the process.
What this then allows researchers to do is to test for cures for that tumor while it is affecting the mouse rather than the patient. This then allows for them to test multiple different forms of medication and treatment in order to see which is the fastest and most effective for treating that particular tumor. This is useful and important because no two cases of a tumor are exactly alike. In other words, a chemical that can help to treat one type of tumor might be different than what would be effective for another. This is because the cancerous cells might be in different stages of their development, and because they might affect different kinds of cells, and because of individual differences for the patient. As chemotherapy is designed to kill of particular types of cell in particular stages of their development, this means that not all therapies will successfully attack all tumors.
What researchers can achieve by using xenografts then is to identify which medications the patient is likely to be responsive to and then to choose these in treating them. This is called ‘personalized anticancer therapy’ and what it essentially means is that the medication is chosen specifically for the individual rather than being just a ‘generic’ treatment. This prevents time wasted using ineffective treatments, and this thereby increases the individual’s chances of survival. Complete personalized anticancer therapy is used in conjunction other things like blood tests in order to avoid allergic reactions etc.
Pros and Cons
Of course it is vastly beneficial to use these methods as it means that the patient will get the correct drugs more quickly and so addresses the cancer quicker thereby preventing it from spreading and increasing survival rates. However there are drawbacks to this methodology too. For one, this strategy is usually highly expensive and this means that they may well be unable to afford it. Meanwhile the treatment is still not 100% accurate so although less time will be wasted the tests still won’t be able to say with absolute certainty whether the treatment is going to be effective or not.