Technological advances in cancer therapy

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Artificial and coloured image of tumour cells grown in an organoid

Researchers from the University of Bern and Inselspital provide an overview of the latest technologies in precision oncology. Transferring these into clinical application is still a major challenge. With research projects, the Bern Center for Precision Medicine (BCPM) contributes to bringing technological progress to patients.

Tumours have significant differences depending on the person affected, even if it is the same cancer such as breast cancer. Therefore, precision oncology targets specific genetic characteristics of a tumour and incorporates them into the treatment. In this way, existing therapies can be "tailor-made" to avoid side effects and save costs in expensive treatments. This represents the cancer treatment of the future. 

Now, Dr Dilara Akhoundova, medical oncologist at the University Hospital of Bern and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bern, and Prof Mark A. Rubin, Director of the Department for BioMedical Research (DBMR) and the Bern Center for Precision Medicine (BCPM), have summarised and reviewed recent advances in tumour profiling. In their report, published in the leading journal Cancer Cell they provide a critical overview of the current state of the technologies under investigation and analyse their potential for integration into precision treatment. "These new technologies give us a deeper understanding of tumours than we have ever experienced before. It's like using standard tools to tell us that Switzerland is a country higher than the Netherlands; with these new technologies, we can see the 3-D landscape with mountains, valleys and lakes," says Mark A. Rubin, director of BCPM. 

Transfer new approaches to the clinic as quickly as possible

However, there are still some hurdles to overcome in order to make the latest technologies usable for the clinic: among other things, they still have to be standardised, or require new infrastructures in clinics or regulatory approval due to the evaluation of a very large amount of data.
One of the latest promising technologies in precision oncology is liquid biopsy, which makes it possible to provide information about the type of cancer in patients more quickly and minimally invasively by means of a blood test. Especially in the case of tumours located deep in the body, such as in the lungs or pancreas, invasive procedures are necessary for this, sometimes under general anaesthesia. Many such technologies as liquid biopsy are used in translational and clinical cancer research. Their clinical potential is already very high; they sometimes still require an additional method that increases the "measurement accuracy" for certain samples. Other innovations are still in their infancy and need to be clinically validated to see if they can achieve their goal at all.

Bernese initiatives for cancer research in Switzerland

The promotion and implementation of new cutting-edge technologies in precision medicine is an important focus of the BCPM. Translational cancer research projects led by BCPM researchers, such as those of Prof. Mark A. Rubin, Prof. Marianna Kruithof-De Julio and Prof. Sven Rottenberg, as well as close collaboration with clinical oncologists at Inselspital Bern and other Swiss institutions are essential to further advance precision oncology and bring the new technologies to patients. "In our review, we explore how these new cutting-edge technologies can be translated into tests that better predict patient responses to tumour therapies," explains Dilara Akhoundova, lead author of the study.
Another important Bernese initiative in the field of precision oncology is the Swiss Platform for Molecular Pathology and Tumour Immunology (SOCIBP), which aims to establish a common genomic "language" for Swiss cancer research: Molecular tumour data will be presented and shared in an understandable way, and genomic tests throughout Switzerland will be standardised. The project is funded by the Swiss Personalized Health Network (SPHN), a federal initiative. "One of our current translational studies focuses on the standardisation and clinical validation of genomic tests in resistant prostate cancer," says Rubin. The goal of the project is to develop more reliable predictive biomarkers that will enable precise oncological control of therapy-resistant tumours. 

The review paper in Cancer Cell was supported by the Swiss Personalized Health Network (SPHN) SOCIBP, the Swiss Cancer League, the Nuovo Soldati Foundation for Cancer Research, the ISREC Fondation Recherche Cancer and the Werner and Hedy Berger-Janser Foundation.


Dilara Akhoundova and Mark A. Rubin: Clinical application of advanced multi-omics tumour profiling: shaping precision oncology of the future. Cancer Cell, 1 September 2022,

Bern Center for Precision Medicine (BCPM)

The Bern Center for Precision Medicine (BCPM) was founded in 2019 on the initiative and with the support of the Canton, the University of Bern, and Inselspital, Bern University Hospital. The BCPM is active in research, networking, and training. The center is dedicated to promoting approaches in precision medicine by supporting research and the development of medical diagnoses and therapeutic methods. It offers an interdisciplinary network for researchers and clinicians from various fields and faculties and unites more than 70 members. The BCPM will provide the best education for the next generation of caretakers and researchers through graduate schools. As a result, it is securing the long-term benefits that precision medicine brings to healthcare. Further information
The centre is dedicated to promoting approaches to precision medicine by supporting the research and development of medical diagnoses and therapeutic methods. It provides an interdisciplinary network for researchers and clinicians from diverse fields and faculties and brings together more than 50 members. The BCPM will also provide the best possible training for the next generation of nurses and researchers through graduate schools. In this way, it will secure the long-term benefits that precision medicine will bring to healthcare.

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Department for BioMedical Research (DBMR)

The Department for BioMedical Research (DBMR) of the Medical Faculty of the University of Bern is divided into 13 research programs with around 100 participating individual laboratories and several independent research laboratories whose research spans all biomedical fields. To bridge the gap between the laboratory and the bedside, the DBMR promotes clinical research with a strong focus on the development of translational approaches, the use of ‘omics and other cutting-edge technologies, with extensive collaboration between laboratory-based and patient-oriented clinical research. The DBMR is also committed to promoting young scientists.

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