"We tried breast cells and they grew well. We tried prostate cells and their growth was fantastic, which is amazing because it is normally impossible to grow these cells in the lab," Schlegel says. "We found the same thing with lung and colon cells that have always been difficult to grow."
"In short, we discovered we can grow normal and tumor cells from the same patient forever, and nobody has been able to do that," he says. "Normal cell cultures for most organ systems can't be established in the lab, so it wasn't possible previously to compare normal and tumor cells directly."
The ability to immortalize cancer cells will also make biobanking both viable and relevant, Schlegel says. The researchers further discovered that the stem-like behavior in these cells is reversible. Withdrawing the ROCK inhibitor forces the cells to differentiate into the adult cells that they were initially. This "conditional immortalization" could help advance the field of regenerative medicine, Schlegel says.
However, the most immediate change in medical practice from these findings is the potential they have in "revolutionizing what pathology departments do," Schlegel says.
"Today, pathologists don't work with living tissue. They make a diagnosis from biopsies that are either frozen or fixed and embedded in wax," he says. "In the future, pathologists will be able to establish live cultures of normal and cancerous cells from patients, and use this to diagnose tumors and screen treatments. That has fantastic potential."
|Contact: Karen Mallet|
Georgetown University Medical Center