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UWRF biology professor works with ‘living biopsy’

March 11, 2015

A biology research project at UW-River Falls was awarded “Regents Scholar” by the UW Board of Regents to launch a prototype tool that will enhance cancer research.

Professor Timothy Lyden is working with students in the biology department at UWRF to create a new way of examining how cancer spreads through the body using artificial tissue, called the “living biopsy.”

Working along with Microscopy Innovations in Marshfield, Wisconsin, Lyden is developing a better way to mimic the culture inside the body instead of in an artificial culture dish. The goal is to map out more clearly which types of cancer will spread and to where.

“There’s a big economic push for a better way to look at the use of cells, by using natural matrix materials, not synthetically generated,” Lyden said.

The living biopsy is a piece of cancer taken from a cancer patient with the initial biopsy and put inside the artificial human environment to replicate the patient’s body. From there, Lyden and his student interns can see how the cancer progresses and if the cancer will spread. With this information they can take it to a physician who can decide which treatment will be the best approach for the individual’s cancer.

This type of culture won’t replace artificial cultures or animal testing for pharmaceutical companies but it does give scientists a more accurate environment to test drugs and treatments on humans.

“The therapy strategy is very heavily dependent on a good analysis of what the tumor is going to do and that comes from the biopsy,” Lyden said.

The UWRF Tissue and Cellular Innovation Center (TCIC) has extensive experience with studying cancer using a variety of 3D artificial tissue engineering approaches working with doctors and physicians at the Marshfield Clinic. These techniques have already made other approaches to personalized cancer treatments available, according to a TCIC press release.

“This new collaboration with Microscopy Innovations allows for greater standardization of the already successful TCIC technology, and so opens the door to cancer analysis and treatment assistance,” Lyden said.

With the award for the research, Lyden can continue to work on a prototype design of a miniature bioreactor system. At the same time, the studies conducted in this project with standard breast cancer cell lines will also help standardize the living biopsy tool-set in preparation for testing with clinical samples next year.

“Once fully tested and validated, the laboratory tool-set is expected to provide clinicians with a unique new insight into each individual patient’s case and so help them to develop the most effective individual therapeutic designs,” Lyden said.

Once finished, Lyden says the end goal is to have a library of responses to the spread of cancer and where in the body the different types of cancer will spread to. Lyden will be working alongside 12 student interns throughout the year.

“By the time we test this, we will have created a library of responses we could see in patient tumors. The hope then is that by having that library of information, the living biopsy approach actually can work with patient tumors,” Lyden said.