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Growing melanoma cells from surgical samples: what have we learnt?

September 4, 2017

Bruce Baguley


Abstract presented to Summit meeting, Queenstown Meeting September 2017

n 1989, a small group of clinicians and scientists started a project where surgical samples of metastatic melanoma were grown in the laboratory. It was thought that such samples might reflect the sensitivity of the original tumour to anticancer drugs and radiotherapy, and that the system could be used to match therapy to individual patients, as well as to test new potential therapies before they progressed to clinical trial. Melanoma patients were a critical part of the team and the project was explained before requesting permission to provide material.  The work also entailed continuing discussions with ethical committees.  A talented cell biologist, Elaine Marshall liaised with surgeons, pathologists and patients, as well as leading the laboratory work. Funding was successively from the Health Research Council and the Cancer Society of New Zealand, from its Auckland Division and from a Manning Fellowship. Even the most aggressive of melanomas is completely unable to grow without growth factors, which are normally provided by host cells in the tumour microenvironment. As the cultures proceed, host cells are lost and growth factors must be added to compensate. Since chopping up the surgical sample into tiny pieces prior to culture induces a massive wounding response, leading to fibroblast proliferation, we had to devise strategies to stop the cultures being overrun by fibroblasts1. Our initial goal was to get a result in 7 days, providing a time frame relevant to clinical management. However, we found that most melanoma samples could be coaxed to grow indefinitely, allowing us to develop and store a collection of melanoma lines. The results suggest that the cell lines mimic many but not all of the properties of the original tumours in melanoma patients. Today, the melanoma line collection forms an important resource that is being used in both national and international studies.   

1 Marshall ES, Finlay GJ, Matthews JHL, Shaw JHF, Nixon J, Baguley BC. Microculture-based chemosensitivity testing: a feasibility study comparing freshly explanted human melanoma cells with human melanoma cell lines. J Natl Cancer Inst 1992; 84: 340-345Abstract

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