Dr. Koss’s breast cancer cells are akin in their potency to Lack’s cervical cancer cells, Dr. Jones reported.
“Measurements of growth of HeLa cells in culture, though hard to directly compare to the clinical measurement, are in the same ballpark [as Dr. Koss’s], and they have been in culture since the 1950s. Therefore, our chances to achieve this are high,” Dr. Jones told Medscape Medical News.
But there is a big difference between Henrietta Lacks and Dr. Koss.
Lacks’ remarkable cellular progeny were cultured and reproduced without her knowledge or consent, and weresubsequently exploited by medical institutions and companies. However, it has been pointed out that patient consent was not commonplace at the time.
One of the consequences of the publicity generated by the book was a “unique agreement” reached in 2013 between the National Institutes of Health and the Lacks family.
Any successful cell line from Dr. Koss would not be exploitive or without consent. It was her idea.
Dr. Koss suggested entrusting her tumor cells to Dr. Jones when he visited his ex-colleague and collaborator in an oncology critical care unit.
“Dr. Jones is absolutely the smartest researcher I’ve ever met,” said Dr. Koss. “I trust him on every level.”
Dr. Jones and Dr. Koss control the rights to her cells. Currently, there are no plans to commercialize them, he said.
In the next 6 months or so, Dr. Jones and his Loyola team should know if the cells can live on in lab cultures.
In the meantime, Dr. Koss is scheduled to undergo postoperative or adjuvant chemotherapy.
The impact of her skipping standard neoadjuvant chemotherapy is not known precisely. However, a meta-analysis from German researchers demonstrated that long-term survival is better in breast cancer patients who attain a pathologic complete response (pCR) after neoadjuvant chemotherapy than in those who do not, and that patients with triple-negative disease are among the greatest beneficiaries (Cancer Res. 2012;72[24 Suppl]:S1-11). At least 1 other study has shown that for patients with triple-negative disease, some regimens are better than others for achieving a pCR. Whether or not neoadjuvant chemotherapy is eventually proven in a phase 3 trial to prolong survival in patients with triple-negative disease remains to be seen, said Dr. Jones. “Studies are ongoing,” he noted.
There is an outstanding need for more immortal breast cancer cell lines, said Dr. Jones.
“There have been other cell lines derived from breast cancer patients, including some from triple-negative patients. However, most of these were derived 30 to 40 years ago, and not directly from tumors but from metastases and from pleural effusions,” he explained.
Also, there is a boatload of problems with the various triple-negative breast cancer cells lines.
“Many were not triple negative in situ (the tumors were not triple negative but the cells later were found to be), and some have recently been found to be contaminated with other types of cancer cells,” said Dr. Jones.
In one case, a triple-negative cell line was found to be contaminated with melanoma cells. More than 200 scientific publications that examined this line are now considered “much less useful” as a result, he noted.
Cancer cell lines are valuable because they facilitate basic research and set the stage for clinical advancements, Dr. Jones said.
In the case of triple-negative breast cancer, basic questions are unanswered, such as the source of the cells’ abnormality, rapid growth, and invasiveness.
The development of cancer cell lines has entered a new era, suggested Dr. Jones. And Dr. Koss’s contribution takes advantage of that.
He explained that technologic advancements now allow for complete genomic and gene-expression analysis of a tumor and for protein marker analysis. Researchers “can therefore repeat these analyses in the cell lines to confirm their gene structure and expression,” he said.
The result is better scientific evidence.
“This will allow us to confirm that the cell lines used for study reflect the actual tumor tissue the way it was in the body, before it was extracted,” he said. “This is an opportunity we did not have before.”
Loyola has established the Dr. Kimberly Koss Breast Cancer Research Initiative Fund to support such research. Dr. Koss is also fundraising for the research on a crowd-sourcing Web site.