Oct 19, 2021 Sarah Spivack LaRosa
Everyone has BRCA genes that typically protect against cancer, while some people inherit mutated versions of the genes that increase their cancer risk. Women with these genetic changes are at greater risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
"We aim to use this model to make predictions about individuals’ cancer development. We also can test drugs on the cancerous tissue and determine which ones work."
Women who discover they have these BRCA mutations are faced with agonizing decisions. Some choose to have risk-reducing surgery, removing their breast tissue or ovaries and fallopian tubes. These women can’t know for certain if they are fated to get cancer, but they must weigh their risk profile and make the best decisions they can.
"But what if we could predict how serious the cancer would be—or if it will develop at all?" says Clive Svendsen, PhD, executive director of the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute (RMI).
The seeds of ovarian cancer sprout in the fallopian tubes. Clive is using stem cell technology to take blood cells from women with BRCA mutations and reprogram them to make fallopian tubes in a culture dish. This process uses induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Human iPSCs are created by taking adult body cells "back in time" to create stem cells that can develop into any kind of human body cell.
Because the fallopian tube cells that are created from the iPSCs share the DNA of the donor patient cell, they may develop cancer in the dish that is identical to what the women would experience years or decades down the road.
"We aim to use this model to make predictions about individuals' cancer development. We also can test drugs on the cancerous tissue and determine which ones work," Clive says. "This provides a great example of patient iPSCs used for personalized medicine."
Eventually, the methodology could help patients decide how to monitor, prevent and treat their cancers—even determining drugs that could be taken prophylactically.