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CyVerse Helps Validate New Cancer Model

An international research team developed the new model to study cancer's interaction with bone. (Photo: Weijie Zhang)

By Shelley Littin, CyVerse

CyVerse community members have developed a new model for how cancer interacts with bone that may vastly accelerate the pace of research and development of cancer treatments.

Called bone-in-culture array or BICA, the new model combines elements of traditional in vivo and petri culture models to provide a comprehensive option for cancer researchers to study metastasis and test possible drug therapies. The model is described in a recent Nature publication.

“BICA is derived from animal models,” said Hai Wang, a study author and cancer researcher at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. “It can be used for both drug screening and to mimic early stages of bone metastasis of cancer.”

The team used CyVerse data management resources to analyze RNA sequencing data they used to test the effectiveness of the BICA model compared with intact mouse models.

“We heavily rely on CyVerse for bioinformatics analysis,” said Wang. “The uniqueness of CyVerse is that we do not need to take the data when we travel. I can log into CyVerse and continue my work from home or wherever I may be.”

“I’m an experimental scientist,” Wang added, “but I really benefit from CyVerse. Experimentalists need to learn something about bioinformatics, and CyVerse provides a good platform to process our analyses.”

While petri culture models allow researchers to study cancer-cell in the culture media, scientists often rely upon in vivo models to understand cancer’s behavior in the whole body.

BICA maintains the interaction between cancer cell and microenvironment, but the researchers used bone fragments to create the model rather than an intact in vivo model, allowing for a much larger sample size.

“With BICA we expanded the sample number and accelerated the process to increase the efficiency of the experiments,” Wang said. “Most artificial models add different types of bone cells and hope to mimic real bone, but they cannot fully recapitulate the interaction between the cancer cell and the microenvironment. Because we used real bone, we believe that BICA has an advantage over the previous artificial models.”

Bone is one of the most common locations of breast cancer metastasis, which occurs when cancerous cells escape the original site and circulate to other organs. “Metastasis is much more lethal than the primary tumor,” Wang explained. The team currently uses BICA to study breast cancer, but they look forward to applying the model to studying other types of bone-metastasizing cancer.

They also hope to test candidate drug therapies. “Hopefully with collaboration with clinicians we can move these drugs to clinical trials and finally prevent occurrence of bone metastasis in patients,” Wang said. “BICA will accelerate the process of testing drugs to treat cancer in humans.”

"This work is an excellent example of how CyVerse data management and analysis capabilities are being used to address research questions aimed at improving human health," noted Parker Antin, principal investigator for CyVerse. "We are delighted to enable this ground breaking cancer research."

The research team hails from Baylor College of Medicine, Shanghai Cancer Institute at Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, Houston Methodist Hospital, and the University of Texas Medical Branch. Their work was funded by the aforementioned institutions, the U.S. Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Breast Cancer Research Institute, Susan G. Komen and McNair Medical Institute, and the John S. Dunn Golf Coast Consortium for Chemical Genomics.