Cancer patients could get living ‘avatars’ to help treat their tumours, says new study

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Cancer patients could be given living ‘avatars’ to enable doctors to test different kinds of drugs to find an effective treatment.

Researchers in Portugal said they had demonstrated for the first time that zebrafish larvae could be used as a host for samples of an individual’s tumour.

This would allow doctors to try different drugs to develop a personalised course of treatment.

One problem with cancer is everyone has their own unique type and tumours can react in different ways to drugs. Cancer cells can even evolve over time.

But there is great hope that personalised medicine will lead to a revolution in treatment by providing a solution to this problem.

Previously mice, which as fellow mammals are closer to humans than fish, have been used as a model in this way, but tumours can take months to grow inside them.

Preliminary results of the new study suggested zebrafish larvae can also be used as a living model, enabling doctors to get results within two weeks.

Dr Miguel Godinho Ferreira, of the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon, Portugal, said: “We demonstrated for the first time that zebrafish and mice react to treatments in the same way: with the same drugs, we obtain the same results in mice and in zebrafish larvae.

“My main concern has been, for a long time, the fact that tumours change.

“In some cases, the efficacy rate of chemotherapies can be low, sometimes around 35 per cent. This means that some patients risk taking inadequate drugs that weaken them – and without a proper test, there is no way to know who will benefit and who won’t.”

Dr Rita Fior, who also worked on the study, said she had been “very frustrated about the fact that although we have so much technology … if someone has a tumor we still don’t know which drug is best for that specific tumour, within the several approved therapeutic options”.

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