Therapeutic resistance plagues cancer outcomes, challenging treatment particularly in aggressive disease. A unique method to decipher drug interactions with their targets and inform therapy is to employ fluorescence-based screening tools; however, to implement productive screening assays, adequate model systems must be developed. Patient-derived pancreatic cancer models (e.g., cell culture, patient-derived xenograft mouse models, and organoids) have been traditionally utilized to predict personalized therapeutic response. However, cost, long read out times and the inability to fully recapitulate the tumor microenvironment have rendered most models incompatible with clinical decision making for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) patients. Tumor explant cultures, where patient tissue can be kept viable for up to weeks, have garnered interest as a platform for delivering personalized therapeutic prediction on a clinically relevant timeline. To fully explore this ex vivo platform, a series of studies were completed to quantitatively compare in vivo models with tumor explants, examining gemcitabine therapeutic efficacy, small molecule uptake and drug-target engagement using a novel fluorescently-labeled gemcitabine conjugate. This initial work shows promise for patient-specific therapeutic selection, where tumor explant drug distribution and response recapitulated the in vivo behavior and could provide a valuable platform for understanding mechanisms of therapeutic response and resistance.
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