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Tumor on a Dish

By growing pieces of patients' tumors on dishes, researchers at Vanderbilt University hope to determine what drugs would best work for those patients, Reuters reports.

Alex Walsh, a biomedical researcher there, is dosing the cells with various drugs then using a laser to get two cellular enzymes to fluoresce, and she tells Reuters that variations in the intensity of that fluorescence acts as a biomarker of cellular metabolism and drug response.

"We're using these readouts of cellular metabolism to predict the drug response that the sample came from," Walsh adds.

Along with Melissa Skala, a biomedical engineering professor, Walsh has tested this approach on mice and now is seeing whether it works for samples from breast cancer and pancreatic cancer patients.

"So the idea here is to eliminate those drugs that don't work and if needed replace them with drugs that do work so we are hoping to have the smallest common denominator of drugs that achieve the lowest toxicity yet achieve treatment efficacy," Skala adds.