Ilya Serebriiskii,PhD, Assistant Professor of Fox Chase Cancer Center (Philadelphia, USA) came to Kazan University to take part in KFU research program. We decided to meet with him to find out the reason of his trip to Kazan.
- Is it your first time in Kazan?
- No, it isn't. I have been here a year ago when I met my colleagues from the Department of Biochemistry of the Institute of Fundamental Medicine and Biology for the first time. We have already had some joint projects, one of them connected with the KFU students' internship at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia where they develop their predegree thesis that they will defend in KFU on their return to Kazan.
After that I participated in a scientific conference dedicated to 150th anniversary of the Department of Biochemistry where an idea of cooperation in diagnostics and therapy of cancer started up. Several projects in cancer study and therapy were submitted to the grant support within the Program of Competitive Growth of KFU. I was invited to head the research laboratory focused on molecular-based study of pathogenesis and cancer therapy. One of the crucial projects of the lab is the one dealt with the creation of xenografts from a patient's tumor.
- Could you, please, tell us in details what a xenograft is?
- To explain what a xenograft is, we need to touch upon a question of cancer research. It is essential to know that many fundamental researches are conducted on cell lines received from patients' tumors. It is the right approach as the culture of such cells is absolutely homogeneous. However, it serves as a self-limitation at the same time.
- The reason is that a human or animal tumor is heterogenic; it consists of a great number of cells slightly different from each other. To get a cell line, a piece of tumor is divided into cells and planted onto special plastic dish with medium. Step by step only those cells are left that can live well on plastic and make a one-cell-thick monolayer. It is very useful for fundamental study of basic regularities of oncogenesis and cancer cell behavior. Many applied researches have been run to discover medical substances most effective for cancer control. Nevertheless, when scientists tried to apply the received results to the clinical practice, there turned to be no correlation between the sensitivity and resistance of cells on plastic and the ones of patients.
- Does it mean that cancer cells on plastic and a patient's tumor live their own lives?
- The key reason is that selected cells exist in a monolayer, a flat layer, whereas a tumor is in three dimensions and interact with cells and tissues around it, and blood vessels in vivo. We tried to overcome this limitation and culture cells in 3D matrix in our Centre in Philadelphia. But there is another approach when a living organism is used to culture cells on. A suspension made of cells that were gathered at Petri dishes is injected to control mice. Then a 3D tumor grows as if it existed in an organism where it interacted with neighbouring cells, tissues, and blood vessels. These tumors are called xenografts (from Greek “xenos” meaning “foreign”).
They are also used for the drug resistance and sensitivity experiments, the results being not very promising. The scientists came to the conclusion that a problem was caused by the cells that had got so used to live on plastic; from the great diversity of tumor cells, only those that live well in artificial environments could survive, but they may be the minority of the base line cells.
Thus, when we learnt it and had adequate information on cells and tissues, we had an idea to try plant tumor pieces directly from a patient to control animals. In favourable environments the tumor survives, and as it has been taken directly from a patient, it preserves the heterogeneity and represent the original tumor better than if we made it live on plastic and only after that planted to mice. The experiments demonstrated that a mice tumor's response on drugs is more similar to that of a patient to the same medicine. So, we may hope a better drug can be chosen for a patient based upon a mice experiment rather than going from one drug to another one during the cancer treatment.
Anyway, it's not all that simple. We can easily predict that a drug that does not work on mice will never help a patient. But if we have found an effective drug for mice, and it is highly likely to work on humans, there is no 100% guarantee. It should be further investigated. Nevertheless, it is important to make a try to bring theory and practice together.
-Will this experience be used in Kazan?
-We should establish relations with the Cancer Centre. We need to create a kind of a centre where, on one hand, we will plant the tumor to mice, and on the other hand, keep some of this material in a biobank. We'll test the tumor's sensitivity to drugs on mice xenografts, and study its biology on the rest of the material. The moment we have enough samples, we'll try to determine the relations between molecular biological character of the original tumor and its response to certain drugs.
The evident and clear regularity will enable to reduce the number of possible drugs, as the more medicine we have to test, the longer it will take to try them on mice, but cancer patients are always short of time.
- Will the researches in Kazan Federal University and Cancer Centre in Philadelphia be conciliated? Or are they two separate projects?
- All the researches are approved by the Fox Chase Cancer Center. It is essential to unite the results of our work to have enough xenografts and molecular biological data on them. To start clinical experiment we'll have to work for up to 5 years.
- Is it a long or short period for science?
- This project is not a sprint, it is more a marathon. I do not have a goal to finish it to a certain date, I want to organize our work so that our scientists had an opportunity to cooperate with American colleagues to gain much experience. I see how well new laboratories are equipped, but unfortunately we do not have enough experts skilled to operate these devices. Our priority goal, as I see it, is personnel training by means of internships in the USA, in addition to it Fox Chase Cancer Center representatives will come here to deliver workshops, Igor Astsaturov, an outstanding pancreatic cancer treatment expert.
The Fox Chase Cancer Center is a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center research facility and hospital located in the Fox Chase section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. The main facilities of the center are located on property adjoining Burholme Park. The center is part of the Temple University Health System (TUHS) and specializes in the treatment and prevention of cancer.
The center was formed in 1974 by the merger of the American Oncologic Hospital, which was founded in 1904 as the first cancer hospital in the United States, and the Institute for Cancer Research, founded in 1927. The center was an independent, non-profit institution until it became part of TUHS July 1, 2012.