NCI: global initiative to create 1,000 cancer cell models

By Melissa Fassbender

- Last updated on GMT

The Human Cancer Models Initiative (HCMI) hopes to create around 1,000 cancer cell models. (Image: iStock/vshivkova)
The Human Cancer Models Initiative (HCMI) hopes to create around 1,000 cancer cell models. (Image: iStock/vshivkova)

Related tags Cancer Cell culture

A newly-launched international project seeks to develop a new bank of cancer cell culture models for the research community.

The Human Cancer Models Initiative (HCMI) is the result of collaboration between the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, and the foundation Hubrecht Organoid Technology.

With expertise from around the world, the initiative will use new techniques​ to create models​ which better resemble human tumors’ complexity – and its goal is to develop around 1,000 cancer cell models.

The scientist will make these models​ using tissue from patients with different types of cancer, including those which under-represented or not available in current cell line collections.

The models will be made available to the research community through an NCI-designated distributor.

To learn more about the initiative, talked with Dr. Louis Staudt, director of NCI’s Center for Cancer Genomics. What were the driving forces behind the collaboration?

Dr. Louis Staudt:​ Most cancer cell lines that are commonly used in research labs today were established decades ago and have been propagated in culture for many years. These traditional cancer cell culture models have been useful for in vitro​ experiments to understand cancer biology.

However, cancer cell lines often lack the complexity and architecture of human tumors, as well as related clinical information about the original tumors and patient from which they were developed. The cell lines’ genetic relatedness to the original tumors are also unknown.

Therefore, it is difficult to draw conclusions about how in vitro​ observations may relate to clinical biology. Rare cancers and some common cancers, such as certain prostate subtypes, are not currently represented in available cancer cell lines. 

Therefore, the HCMI was established to address the need for better tools to study cancer biology in a preclinical, laboratory setting. Through the HCMI, institutions will create new cancer models which will better resemble the tissue architecture, diversity, and complexity of human tumors than currently available cell lines.

The models, the tumor from which they were derived, as well as case-matched normal DNA, will be sequenced; those data and clinical information from the donor patient will be available in databases, including the Genomic Data Commons. Is there a timeline for the project?

Staudt:​ Currently, proposals are being submitted and reviewed in association with the RFP for Cancer Model Development Centers.

Cancer models generation will begin after a 6-month period in which all IRB protocols are approved and licensing agreements are in place to use patented technologies to generate and distribute models. Then, HCMI hopes to have a subset of the 1,000 models available for distribution within the next 2 to 3 years. What are the next steps?

Staudt:​ We are in the process of implementing standard procedures for creating cell lines, deriving genomic data, capturing clinical information, and making the cell lines available through a distributor later this year or early next year. What are the major challenges?

Staudt:​ Currently, we are in a pilot phase of this initiative; there are many interesting and unsolved questions that we hope to address with this technology. We know that these models have proven value for helping us understand mechanisms of cancer initiation, progression, and maintenance, understanding drug resistance, and recapitulating cancer phenotypes.

Therefore, we know it is ready to be launched as a pilot. However, as we scale this up, there are many questions that will need to be addressed.

For example: will all cancers be readily grown using these methods, or will some be recalcitrant to these technologies? Will the cancer genome drift over time? What types of experiments can – and can not – be done with these models?

Related topics Preclinical Research Preclinical

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