Skolar Award 2018 winner Sandra Jernström wants to change the way we treat cancer

The winner of Research Pitching Competition 2018, Sandra Jernström from Karolinska Institute wants to really understand cancer and create a library of personalised treatments with faster results. 

Sandra Jernström at Slush

Your idea strives to find a new kind of treatment to cancer by analysing not just the type of the cancer but the consistency of the tumour. What is new about your research idea?

In my idea I suggest that we use patient material and analyse different kinds of cells, not just cancer cells. Currently cancer treatment is very focused on the origin of the cancer, like breast cancer or bladder cancer. I think tumors may have  similar molecular patterns, regardless of where they originate in the body. By understanding the composition of the tumours we could have a wider selection of treatments to choose from. Also, this technique would allow us to test medicine very fast and get initial response from the tumour already in a few days.

Research Pitching Competition looks for the wild in research. What is the wildest thing you would like to accomplish as a researcher?

My dream is to develop an instrument for the clinic, where a tumor biopsy piece could be inserted directly when it is taken and a few hours later you would have a list of suggested drugs that could target that specific cancer.

What made you want to get up on the Slush stage and pitch your research?

I got familiar with pitching through my husband who works at a startup company. I think it is a good way to make research more visible to the general public.

Why did you decide to become a researcher?

I became a researcher by accident. I just followed whatever I found interesting and realised no-one is doing research on this topic.

Sandra’s wild idea:

Our idea is that, when a tumor biopsy is taken, we separate it into single cells. Instead of selecting only the cancerous cells, we sort all of the cells and measure their proportion in the tumor. We tag the cells with specific antibodies in order to keep track of them. The cells are inserted into oil droplets by microfluidics, where they form spheroids in only a few hours.
By using microfluidics, we can monitor that the actual cell content of the spheroids mimics the content of the tumor. The spheroids are then transferred into multi-well plates and drug tested, where the cell specific tags help us monitor which cell types respond to the treatment. This information can then be used to design and test combinatorial treatments that kill the entire tumor. These results are reported back to the clinic to be used for selecting the most efficient treatment to that specific patient’s cancer.