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1.  Genomics driven-oncology: challenges and perspectives 
BMC Cancer  2015;15:141.
Molecularly defined subgroups of tumors characterized by specific driver mutations have been identified in the majority of cancers. The availability of novel drugs capable of targeting signaling pathways activated by genetic derangements has led to hypothesize the possibility to treat patients based on their genomic profile. A clear example is represented by lung adenocarcinoma for which it has been possible to identify driver genetic alterations in approximately 75% of the cases. Among these, RET fusion transcripts are detectable in about 1–2% of lung adenocarcinomas and might represent targets for therapeutic intervention with RET kinase inhibitors. However, a number of issues need to be addressed to make genomics-driven oncology routinely accessible for cancer patients, including: 1) the availability of novel methods in molecular diagnostics that allow a comprehensive molecular characterization of lung tumors starting from a low input DNA/RNA; 2) identification of reliable and reproducible biomarkers of response/resistance to targeted agents; 3) the assessment of the role of tumor heterogeneity in the response to drugs targeting molecular pathways.
PMCID: PMC4381449  PMID: 25884512
Cancer genomics; Lung cancer; RET; Targeted therapy
2.  Prediction of resistance to chemotherapy in ovarian cancer: a systematic review 
BMC Cancer  2015;15:117.
Patient response to chemotherapy for ovarian cancer is extremely heterogeneous and there are currently no tools to aid the prediction of sensitivity or resistance to chemotherapy and allow treatment stratification. Such a tool could greatly improve patient survival by identifying the most appropriate treatment on a patient-specific basis.
PubMed was searched for studies predicting response or resistance to chemotherapy using gene expression measurements of human tissue in ovarian cancer.
42 studies were identified and both the data collection and modelling methods were compared. The majority of studies utilised fresh-frozen or formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue. Modelling techniques varied, the most popular being Cox proportional hazards regression and hierarchical clustering which were used by 17 and 11 studies respectively. The gene signatures identified by the various studies were not consistent, with very few genes being identified by more than two studies. Patient cohorts were often noted to be heterogeneous with respect to chemotherapy treatment undergone by patients.
A clinically applicable gene signature capable of predicting patient response to chemotherapy has not yet been identified. Research into a predictive, as opposed to prognostic, model could be highly beneficial and aid the identification of the most suitable treatment for patients.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12885-015-1101-8) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4371880  PMID: 25886033
Ovarian cancer; Chemoresistance; Predictive model; Statistical modelling
3.  Development of a semi-conductor sequencing-based panel for genotyping of colon and lung cancer by the Onconetwork consortium 
BMC Cancer  2015;15:26.
The number of predictive biomarkers that will be necessary to assess in clinical practice will increase with the availability of drugs that target specific molecular alterations. Therefore, diagnostic laboratories are confronted with new challenges: costs, turn-around-time and the amount of material required for testing will increase with the number of tests performed on a sample. Our consortium of European clinical research laboratories set out to test if semi-conductor sequencing provides a solution for these challenges.
We designed a multiplex PCR targeting 87 hotspot regions in 22 genes that are of clinical interest for lung and/or colorectal cancer. The gene-panel was tested by 7 different labs in their own clinical setting using ion-semiconductor sequencing.
We analyzed 155 samples containing 112 previously identified mutations in the KRAS, EGFR en BRAF genes. Only 1 sample failed analysis due to poor quality of the DNA. All other samples were correctly genotyped for the known mutations, even as low as 2%, but also revealed other mutations. Optimization of the primers used in the multiplex PCR resulted in a uniform coverage distribution over the amplicons that allows for efficient pooling of samples in a sequencing run.
We show that a semi-conductor based sequencing approach to stratify colon and lung cancer patients is feasible in a clinical setting.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12885-015-1015-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4318366  PMID: 25637035
Next-generation sequencing; Semi-conductor sequencing; Colorectal cancer; Non-small cell lung cancer; Multiplex PCR; Ion Torrent
4.  Improved blood tests for cancer screening: general or specific? 
BMC Cancer  2011;11:499.
Diagnosis of cancer at an early stage leads to improved survival. However, most current blood tests detect single biomarkers that are of limited suitability for screening, and existing screening programmes look only for cancers of one particular type. A new approach is needed. Recent developments suggest the possibility of blood-based screening for multiple tumour types. It may be feasible to develop a high-sensitivity general screen for cancer using multiple proteins and nucleic acids present in the blood of cancer patients, based on the biological characteristics of cancer. Positive samples in the general screen would be submitted automatically for secondary screening using tests to help define the likelihood of cancer and provide some indication of its type. Only those at high risk would be referred for further clinical assessment to permit early treatment and mitigate potential overdiagnosis. While the assays required for each step exist, they have not been used in this way. Recent experience of screening for breast, cervical and ovarian cancers suggest that there is likely to be widespread acceptance of such a strategy.
PMCID: PMC3285105  PMID: 22128772
5.  Resistance gene expression determines the in vitro chemosensitivity of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) 
BMC Cancer  2009;9:300.
NSCLC exhibits considerable heterogeneity in its sensitivity to chemotherapy and similar heterogeneity is noted in vitro in a variety of model systems. This study has tested the hypothesis that the molecular basis of the observed in vitro chemosensitivity of NSCLC lies within the known resistance mechanisms inherent to these patients' tumors.
The chemosensitivity of a series of 49 NSCLC tumors was assessed using the ATP-based tumor chemosensitivity assay (ATP-TCA) and compared with quantitative expression of resistance genes measured by RT-PCR in a Taqman Array™ following extraction of RNA from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissue.
There was considerable heterogeneity between tumors within the ATP-TCA, and while this showed no direct correlation with individual gene expression, there was strong correlation of multi-gene signatures for many of the single agents and combinations tested. For instance, docetaxel activity showed some dependence on the expression of drug pumps, while cisplatin activity showed some dependence on DNA repair enzyme expression. Activity of both drugs was influenced more strongly still by the expression of anti- and pro-apoptotic genes by the tumor for both docetaxel and cisplatin. The doublet combinations of cisplatin with gemcitabine and cisplatin with docetaxel showed gene expression signatures incorporating resistance mechanisms for both agents.
Genes predicted to be involved in known mechanisms drug sensitivity and resistance correlate well with in vitro chemosensitivity and may allow the definition of predictive signatures to guide individualized chemotherapy in lung cancer.
PMCID: PMC2739227  PMID: 19712441
6.  Activity of mevalonate pathway inhibitors against breast and ovarian cancers in the ATP-based tumour chemosensitivity assay 
BMC Cancer  2009;9:38.
Previous data suggest that lipophilic statins such as fluvastatin and N-bisphosphonates such as zoledronic acid, both inhibitors of the mevalonate metabolic pathway, have anti-cancer effects in vitro and in patients. We have examined the effect of fluvastatin alone and in combination with zoledronic acid in the ATP-based tumour chemosensitivity assay (ATP-TCA) for effects on breast and ovarian cancer tumour-derived cells. Both zoledronic acid and fluvastatin showed activity in the ATP-TCA against breast and ovarian cancer, though fluvastatin alone was less active, particularly against breast cancer. The combination of zoledronic acid and fluvastatin was more active than either single agent in the ATP-TCA with some synergy against breast and ovarian cancer tumour-derived cells. Sequential drug experiments showed that pre-treatment of ovarian tumour cells with fluvastatin resulted in decreased sensitivity to zoledronic acid. Addition of mevalonate pathway components with zoledronic acid with or without fluvastatin showed little effect, while mevalonate did reduced inhibition due to fluvastatin. These data suggest that the combination of zoledronic acid and fluvastatin may have activity against breast and ovarian cancer based on direct anti-cancer cell effects. A clinical trial to test this is in preparation.
PMCID: PMC2642836  PMID: 19175937
7.  Prognostic significance of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) expression in patients with surgically resectable adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus 
BMC Cancer  2006;6:134.
COX-2 expression in tumour cells has been associated with poor prognosis in gastrointestinal and non-gastrointestinal cancers. The aim of our study was to test the hypothesis that higher levels of COX-2 expression are prognostically related to poor clinico-pathologic features in adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus.
We reviewed the records of 100 consecutive patients undergoing resection for adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus to collect data on T-stage, N-stage, tumour recurrence and survival. T & N-stage was further confirmed by histological examination. COX-2 protein expression was assessed by immunohistochemistry in all patients and COX-2 m-RNA expression was measured by quantitative RT-PCR in a small group of patients.
Higher levels of COX-2 expression were associated with higher T stage (p = 0.008), higher N stage (p = 0.049), increased risk of tumour recurrence (p = 0.01) and poor survival (p = <0.001). A COX-2 score of >200 was associated with a median survival of 10 months compared to 26 months with a score of <200 (p = <0.001).
Higher levels of COX-2 expression are associated with poor clinico-pathologic features and poor survival in patients with oesophageal adenocarcinoma.
PMCID: PMC1481577  PMID: 16712734
8.  Cancer cell adaptation to chemotherapy 
BMC Cancer  2005;5:78.
Tumor resistance to chemotherapy may be present at the beginning of treatment, develop during treatment, or become apparent on re-treatment of the patient. The mechanisms involved are usually inferred from experiments with cell lines, as studies in tumor-derived cells are difficult. Studies of human tumors show that cells adapt to chemotherapy, but it has been largely assumed that clonal selection leads to the resistance of recurrent tumors.
Cells derived from 47 tumors of breast, ovarian, esophageal, and colorectal origin and 16 paired esophageal biopsies were exposed to anticancer agents (cisplatin; 5-fluorouracil; epirubicin; doxorubicin; paclitaxel; irinotecan and topotecan) in short-term cell culture (6 days). Real-time quantitative PCR was used to measure up- or down-regulation of 16 different resistance/target genes, and when tissue was available, immunohistochemistry was used to assess the protein levels.
In 8/16 paired esophageal biopsies, there was an increase in the expression of multi-drug resistance gene 1 (MDR1) following epirubicin + cisplatin + 5-fluorouracil (ECF) chemotherapy and this was accompanied by increased expression of the MDR-1 encoded protein, P-gp. Following exposure to doxorubicin in vitro, 13/14 breast carcinomas and 9/12 ovarian carcinomas showed >2-fold down-regulation of topoisomerase IIα (TOPOIIα). Exposure to topotecan in vitro, resulted in >4-fold down-regulation of TOPOIIα in 6/7 colorectal tumors and 8/10 ovarian tumors.
This study suggests that up-regulation of resistance genes or down-regulation in target genes may occur rapidly in human solid tumors, within days of the start of treatment, and that similar changes are present in pre- and post-chemotherapy biopsy material. The molecular processes used by each tumor appear to be linked to the drug used, but there is also heterogeneity between individual tumors, even those with the same histological type, in the pattern and magnitude of response to the same drugs. Adaptation to chemotherapy may explain why prediction of resistance mechanisms is difficult on the basis of tumor type alone or individual markers, and suggests that more complex predictive methods are required to improve the response rates to chemotherapy.
PMCID: PMC1199589  PMID: 16026610
9.  The in vitro effect of gefitinib ('Iressa') alone and in combination with cytotoxic chemotherapy on human solid tumours 
BMC Cancer  2004;4:83.
Activation of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) triggers downstream signaling pathways that regulate many cellular processes involved in tumour survival and growth. Gefitinib ('Iressa') is an orally active tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) targeted to the ATP-binding domain of EGFR (HER1; erbB1).
In this study we have used a standardised ATP-based tumour chemosensitivity assay (ATP-TCA) to measure the activity of gefitinib alone or in combination with different cytotoxic drugs (cisplatin, gemcitabine, oxaliplatin and treosulfan) against a variety of solid tumours (n = 86), including breast, colorectal, oesophageal and ovarian cancer, carcinoma of unknown primary site, cutaneous and uveal melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and sarcoma. The IC50 and IC90 were calculated for each single agent or combination. To allow comparison between samples the IndexSUM was calculated based on the percentage tumour growth inhibition (TGI) at each test drug concentration (TDC). Gefitinib was tested at concentrations ranging from 0.0625–2 microM (TDC = 0.446 microg/ml). This study represents the first use of a TKI in the assay.
There was heterogeneity in the degree of TGI observed when tumours were tested against single agent gefitinib. 7% (6/86) of tumours exhibited considerable inhibition, but most showed a more modest response resulting in a low TGI. The median IC50 value for single agent gefitinib in all tumours tested was 3.98 microM. Interestingly, gefitinib had both positive and negative effects when used in combination with different cytotoxics. In 59% (45/76) of tumours tested, the addition of gefitinib appeared to potentiate the effect of the cytotoxic agent or combination (of these, 11% (5/45) had a >50% decrease in their IndexSUM). In 38% of tumours (29/76), the TGI was decreased when the combination of gefitinib + cytotoxic was used in comparison to the cytotoxic alone. In the remaining 3% (2/76) there was no change observed.
The in vitro model suggests that gefitinib may have differential effects in response to concomitant cytotoxic chemotherapy with the agents tested during this study. The mechanism involved may relate to the effect of TKIs on growth rate versus their effect on the ability of the cell to survive the stimulus to apoptosis produced by chemotherapy.
PMCID: PMC535559  PMID: 15560844
10.  Outcome of ATP-based tumor chemosensitivity assay directed chemotherapy in heavily pre-treated recurrent ovarian carcinoma 
BMC Cancer  2003;3:19.
We wished to evaluate the clinical response following ATP-Tumor Chemosensitivity Assay (ATP-TCA) directed salvage chemotherapy in a series of UK patients with advanced ovarian cancer. The results are compared with that of a similar assay used in a different country in terms of evaluability and clinical endpoints.
From November 1998 to November 2001, 46 patients with pre-treated, advanced ovarian cancer were given a total of 56 courses of chemotherapy based on in-vitro ATP-TCA responses obtained from fresh tumor samples or ascites. Forty-four patients were evaluable for results. Of these, 18 patients had clinically platinum resistant disease (relapse < 6 months after first course of chemotherapy). There was evidence of cisplatin resistance in 31 patients from their first ATP-TCA. Response to treatment was assessed by radiology, clinical assessment and tumor marker level (CA 125).
The overall response rate was 59% (33/56) per course of chemotherapy, including 12 complete responses, 21 partial responses, 6 with stable disease, and 15 with progressive disease. Two patients were not evaluable for response having received just one cycle of chemotherapy: if these were excluded the response rate is 61%. Fifteen patients are still alive. Median progression free survival (PFS) was 6.6 months per course of chemotherapy; median overall survival (OAS) for each patient following the start of TCA-directed therapy was 10.4 months (95% confidence interval 7.9–12.8 months).
The results show similar response rates to previous studies using ATP-TCA directed therapy in recurrent ovarian cancer. The assay shows high evaluability and this study adds weight to the reproducibility of results from different centres.
PMCID: PMC166157  PMID: 12841853

Results 1-10 (10)