Background: Targeted anti-HER2 therapy has greatly improved the prognosis for many breast cancer patients. However, treatment for HER2 negative disease is currently still selected from a multitude of untargeted chemotherapeutic treatment options. A predictive test was developed using patient-derived spheroids to identify the most effective therapy for patients with HER2 negative breast cancer of all stages, for clinically relevant subgroups, as well as individual patients.
Methods: Tumor samples from 120 HER2 negative patients obtained through biopsy or surgical excision were tested in the breast cancer spheroid model using scaffold-free cell culture. Similarly, spheroids were also generated from established HER2 negative breast cancer cell lines T-47D, MCF7, HCC1143, and HCC1937 to compare treatment efficacy of heterogeneous cell populations from patient tumor tissue with homogeneous cell lines. Spheroids were treated in vitro with guideline-recommended compounds. Treatment mediated impact on cell survival was subsequently quantified using an ATP assay.
Results: Differences were observed in the metabolic activity of the untreated spheroids, whereby cell lines consistently achieved higher values compared to tissue spheroids (p < 0.001). A higher number of cells per spheroid correlated with a higher basal metabolic activity in tissue-derived spheroids (p < 0.01), while the opposite was observed for cell line spheroids (p < 0.01). Recurrent tumors showed a higher mean vitality (p < 0.01) compared to primary tumors. Except for taxanes, treatment efficacy for most tested compounds differed significantly between breast cancer tissue spheroids and breast cancer cell lines. Overall a high variability in treatment response in vitro was seen in the tissue spheroids regardless of the tested substances. A greater response to anthracycline/docetaxel was observed for hormone receptor negative samples (p < 0.01). A higher response to 5-FU (p < 0.01) and anthracycline (p < 0.05) was seen in high grade tumors. Smaller tumor size and negative lymph node status were both associated with a higher treatment efficacy to anthracycline treatment combined with 5-FU (cT1/2 vs cT3/4, p = 0.035, cN+ vs cN-, p < 0.05).
Conclusions: The tissue spheroid model reflects current guideline treatment recommendations for HER2 negative breast cancer, whereas tested cell lines did not. This model represents a unique diagnostic method to select the most effective therapy out of several equivalent treatment options.
Keywords: Breast cancer; In vitro diagnostics; Personalized medicine; Preclinical treatment selection; Spheroid cell culture.