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MIT Research News

April 16, 2019

The fluid that feeds tumor cells

The substance that bathes tumors in the body is quite different from the medium used to grow cancer cells in the lab, biologists report.

Anne Trafton | MIT News Office

Before being tested in animals or humans, most cancer drugs are evaluated in tumor cells grown in a lab dish. However, in recent years, there has been a growing realization that the environment in which these cells are grown does not accurately mimic the natural environment of a tumor, and that this discrepancy could produce inaccurate results.

In a new study, MIT biologists analyzed the composition of the interstitial fluid that normally surrounds pancreatic tumors, and found that its nutrient composition is different from that of the culture medium normally used to grow cancer cells. It also differs from blood, which feeds the interstitial fluid and removes waste products.

The findings suggest that growing cancer cells in a culture medium more similar to this fluid could help researchers better predict how experimental drugs will affect cancer cells, says Matthew Vander Heiden, an associate professor of biology at MIT and a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.