Describe the benefits to using tissue cultures to study medications used for treating cancer cells

A. Doctors can study how quickly cancer spreads in the culture so they know what medicine to use.

B. Medications can be tested on the cancer culture before being injected into the patient.

C. The cancer culture can be studied to determine if oral medicine is the best treatment for the patient.

The correct answer is B. Medications can be tested on the cancer culture before being injected into the patient.

The study of cancer relies a great deal on the use of cell cultures. Growing cancer cells in the laboratory is a good way to learn about not only the properties of a particular type of cancer but also what medicines can be used and if they even work to kill the cells.

Medications can have dangerous side effects and may or may not be effective in killing or halting the growth of cancer cells. This is why culturing cells in the laboratory and using these cultures to test potential medicine is so important.

Testing newly developed medicine on patients with no idea of drug effectiveness may be a waste of time and money. It is important to recognize that even if the drug that is developed works on cells in culture, that it may not work in the human body.

Thus, usually, drug trials are still done on actual patients to see if the drug works and if there are adverse side effects. However, tissue culture will give the first clue as to whether or not human drug trials are worth trying.

Tissue culture

Tissue culture is a procedure in which living cells from the tissue is placed in an artificial medium and put in conditions that will enable the cells to carry on growing. The culture may consist of one or more cells or even an entire organ.

Generally culturing tissue today involves using cells that originated from a primary cell line of immortal cells. These are cells that, due to mutation, continue to divide without signs of stopping. Cells are grown in vitro, in other words, they are taken and cultured in a test tube, flask or petri dish in the laboratory.

Conditions need to be kept very sterile to avoid contamination of the cells by microorganisms. An appropriate growth medium is used to provide all the nutrients and energy needs of the cells.

The nutrients and correct growth conditions should ensure that they survive and are able to undergo division to form more cells.

Animal tissue culture in the past has consisted of cells being grown in two dimensions in monolayers. More recently scientists have developed ways to grow three-dimensional layers of cells.

This was made possible by the invention of fibrous lattice-like materials. The theory is that in multicellular animals, cells grow in 3-D layers and thus a 2-D model of tissues is not a very realistic model to use in the laboratory when conducting research. This is certainly believed to be the case when it comes to testing cancer drugs.

Testing drugs

Molecular biology techniques can also be used on cells grown in vitro to establish what genetic changes are present in the cells. Studying cancer cells provides insight into how they divide and what conditions they thrive in.

This information can then be used to design drugs to target specific types of cancer cells. Testing potential medications on these cells can give an indication of how effective the treatment is before testing in humans begins.

Medications used to treat cancer can have dangerous side effects so various lab tests done beforehand are a good first step in determining if it is worth trying a particular drug on patients.


The term cancer really refers to several different diseases that all typically consist of cells that divide without control. This uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells can sometimes lead to the production of clumps of tissues known as tumors. The cells can also often spread throughout the body through the lymphatic system.

When this happens the cancer is said to have metastasized. The size of tumors and the extent of spread of a cancer is often used to determine the stage it is in. In fact, the highest stage cancer (stage 4) is the most severe and has the lowest chance of survival.

Healthy cells are able to suppress tumor development and repair faulty DNA. In cancer, a series of mutations disable the ability of the cell to fix damaged DNA and tumor suppressor genes become inactivated. This then leads to these damaged cells dividing without control.

Cancer kills over a million people worldwide every year. Researchers are therefore interested in finding ways to treat or even cure cancer. Tissue culture provides a means for them to learn about cancer cells and facilitates testing of a drug treatment option, a chemotherapeutic agent.


Chemotherapy is the use of medications to treat cancer. These drugs have tended to be cytotoxic, meaning they kill the cells.

The problem then is that these medications often have severe side effects since they also frequently kill healthy cells as well as the cancer cells. This may substantially weaken the cancer patient even further.

A targeted approach is more desirable if possible since this will focus on killing only the cancer cells. In fact, the development of monoclonal antibodies which are designed so that they attach only to cancerous cells was approved for use in the 1990s in the United States.

This approach is specific because antibodies only attach to specific proteins that are on a cell. These methods though can only be used for treating certain types of cancer such as lymphoma.

However, they only work if the patient expresses the correct protein though, so it is not as simple as it seems. These targeted drugs are also a lot more expensive and may only work for certain types of cancer.

Hormonal therapies and vaccines can also be used to treat or prevent cancer. The vaccine for the human papillomavirus, for instance, is recommended as a way to prevent the development of cervical cancer in women.

Other treatments include surgical removal of tumors and radiation therapy. Treatment options vary according to the type of cancer and the stage it is in.

Clearly, the sooner cancer is detected the better, and in some cases, surgery may remove all the cancerous cells. Once cancer has spread it becomes difficult to eradicate from the body. Treatment choices may still be given to alleviate pain and discomfort in those patients who are terminally ill.


  1. N Utku (2011).  New Approaches to Treat Cancer–What They Can and Cannot Do. Biotechnology healthcare.
  2. JA Dickson (1966).  Tissue-culture approach to the treatment of cancer. British Medical Journal.
  3. CJ Lovitt, TB Shelper, VM Avery (2014). Advanced cell culture techniques for cancer drug discovery. Biology.
  4. Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica (2018). Tissue culture. Retrieved from Encyclopedia Britannica.
  5. J Costa (2018). Cancer. Retrieved from Encyclopedia Britannica.


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