The Patient-Derived Tumour Xenograft Project’, or PDTX, is the first project being supported by the Fund. It is a promising line of research that effectively spans the gap between the lab and the patient.

In order to develop and implement a personalised therapy, researchers and physicians must have as much information as possible about the tumour itself. This requires better models for testing.

With this goal in mind, researchers at KU Leuven launched the ‘Tumour Xenograft Project’ in September 2012, a project based on the use of ‘xenograft models’. A xenograft model is a testing model that involves implanting tumorous tissue from the patient into a different organism. This innovative project is led by Professor Amant.

By implanting human tumorous tissue in mice, oncologists can study the tumour and gain important insight about its structure and development, just as a tumour growing in a person. The testing model is thus very close to the patient. 

Scientists comb through the tumour’s genetic and other characteristics looking for ‘biomarkers’ that can be targeted by both experimental and proven therapies. These therapies are then tested on mice carrying the tumour. If a therapy shows promising results in the mice, there is a good chance that it will also be effective in the patient. And if that turns out to be true, the treatment could also be used to provide targeted care for other patients with tumors exhibiting the same biomarker.

Professor Amant: “The possibilities of the ‘Tumour Xenograft Model’ are promising. We want to use the model to study as many types of tumours as possible. With this knowledge, we can develop personalised therapies – therapies that give each patient the best possible chances, while also minimising side effects.”


Immediately after being removed from the patient, a piece of the tumour is sent to the lab. Researchers dissect the material, retain a portion of the tumour and implant another portion in test mice. The tumour then grows in the mice. About 70% of implanted tumours grow successfully in the mice. The tumours are then transplanted twice into new mice in order to obtain enough tissue for further investigation. 

In the meantime, researchers determine the genetic characteristics of the tumour. On the basis of this information, a targeted medication is chosen. The researchers can then study how the tumour in question responds to that particular treatment. Favourable results in the mouse model are a promising indication of a therapy's success in the patient.

The diagram below illustrates the process. (naar Tentler JJ et al., Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology, 2012)