Novel cancer therapies
Current key treatment options in oncology include surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Unfortunately, such treatments are not effective for all patients, thus requiring new treatment approaches. Combination therapies can increase the anti-cancer effect, but they may also enhance the side effects induced by individual treatments. Therefore, in-depth studies of the interactions of combination therapies are required. At the University of Antwerp, several cancer cell lines and assays are available for toxicity testing, including apoptosis assays and living cell assays. These assays are also used for the development of novel drug delivery techniques for cytostatics. Within this research domain, a lot of attention is devoted to the characterization of the tumor micro-environment, with our teams being strongly involved in the elucidation of the effect of hypoxia on various interactions induced by cancer therapies.
Another line of research is focused on the development of patient-specific cancer vaccines that are based on dendritic cells of the individual patient. The optimisation of such cancer vaccines comprises of a combination of in vitro and in vivo studies, including in-depth immunobiological studies and phase I therapeutic vaccination programmes in leukaemia. Clinical studies are performed at the Antwerp University Hospital under strictly controlled conditions.
A lot of the effort in oncology research worldwide is focused on the development and validation of biomarkers, which may be used for several purposes in oncology. For instance, tumor biomarkers may help to optimize individual treatment schemes on a patient-specific basis. Validated biomarkers may also facilitate adequate patient selection for future clinical trials, thus limiting the exposure of patients to destructive treatments to those that are most likely to benefit from such treatments. Moreover, tumor biomarkers may equally be used in diagnostic settings, in order to allow early diagnosis and/or to improve diagnostic certainty.
At the University of Antwerp, several compounds are currently being evaluated as possible therapeutic targets and/or biomarkers in oncology, such as molecular probes for imaging and diagnosis or biomarkers for detection of cervical cancer using proteomics. Furthermore, there is extensive expertise in molecular imaging of tumor biomarkers for the evaluation of therapeutic efficacy of both existing and newly developed therapies. In this view, the oncology research at UA can rely on extensive expertise in biomedical imaging, one of the frontline research domains of the UA.