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Trends in Cancer. The world’s first collection of brain metastasis living samples will help treat each patient with the most effective therapy for them

31.10.2023

Help us to eliminate cancer

Sample prepared, classified and conserved at the CNIO Biobank. Laura M. Lombardía / CNIO.

A paper published in Trends in Cancer explains the advantages of RENACER, the world’s first repository of brain metastases live samples, created by researchers at CNIO

On live samples researchers can study the way cancer cells respond to drugs. This paves the way to create individual avatars for each patient on which to test out possible therapies before applying them.

RENACER is made up of around twenty hospitals, whose representatives have attended their first general assembly meeting at the Fundación Ramón Areces, the institution also funding the project “National Brain Metastasis Network: Implementation, Development and Coordination"

At 18 Spanish hospitals, when a patient with brain metastasis undergoes surgery, they can donate a tiny part of their brain to the first repository of brain metastasis living samples in the world, based at CNIO (Spanish National Cancer Research Centre). It is a pioneering collection in the world, created to accelerate the search for therapies against brain metastasis, a disease that affects up to 30% of patients with systemic cancer.

The creators of this repository are two researchers from CNIO, Manuel Valiente, head of the Brain Metastasis Group, and Eva Ortega-Paíno, director of the Biobank, who set out in the journal Trends in Cancer the advantages of the collection, called RENACER –Spanish acronym for the National Brain Metastasis Network–, which in just three years has compiled samples from more than 150 patients.

The truly unique feature of RENACER, which makes it a valuable tool for the international scientific community, is that it contains living samples, conserved in cultures that enable the cells to continue behaving in a similar way as they were in the body.

A living biobank that enables organotypic cultures

“We have built a ‘living’ biobank” write Valiente and Ortega-Paíno. And this characteristic can be “transformative, not only for research but also for clinical trial design, especially when focused on unmet clinical needs, such as brain metastasis”.

The fact that the cells are living allows them, for example, to study their response to specific drugs. RENACER paves the way to create avatars for each patient in order to identify the best therapeutic options in an individualised way.

“Research contracts have been already signed to exploit patient-derived organotypic cultures (PDOCs) as avatars, thus providing the possibility to generate biomarkers of sensitivity or resistance to specific drugs” the authors explain in Trends in Cancer.

The hospitals involved with RENACER work as a network to pass on research findings to patients as quickly as possible. In fact, thanks to this network, there are already two clinical trials underway, which will determine the capacity of two biomarkers to discriminate cases in which radiotherapy – a technique with side effects – will be effective.

From the operating theatre to the biobank in hours

The requirement for cells to be “alive” is not easy to achieve, since it involves a sophisticated logistics chain. The samples are taken from the operating theatre in a special container, in their culture medium, at a temperature of between 4 and 8 degrees centigrade.

They must reach the CNIO Biobank, in Madrid, in less than 24 hours. There, they are processed, organotypic cultures are created, and they are divided into proportional parts that are stored as samples for future investigations. They are also analysed using various techniques and sequenced, to extract as much information as possible from them. All the data are put into a database that is open to the international scientific community.

“It is pivotal to empower patients”

“This is happening just a few years after the project was launched”, said Valiente. “It’s a strategy that helps to improve knowledge as well as diagnosis and treatment options, but also brings all the people involved closer together: patients, core researchers, chemical researchers, healthcare professionals, and the biobank.”

Patients, “[because they act] as donors during a difficult brain metastasis neurosurgery, play a crucial role and we strongly believe that it is pivotal to empower them,” the researchers explain. GEPAC (Spanish Group of Patients with Cancer) is also involved with RENACER.

The III General Assembly of RENACER took place on 30 October at the Fundación Ramón Areces, in Madrid, an institution that is also funding the project entitled “National Brain Metastasis Network: Implementation, Development and Coordination.”

Reference article

Manuel Valiente, Eva Ortega-Paino, Updating cancer research with patient-focused networks, Trends in Cancer, 2023, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trecan.2023.09.002

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