Journey to precision cancer treatment takes off with new passports tool

Cell Model Passports website offers 'one-stop shop' of information about cancer cell models covering their genetics, clinical history and drug sensitivities, thereby speeding cancer research

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Schematic of the heirarchy used by the Cell Models Passports to capture the relationships that exist between cell samples. Image credit: Nucleic Acids Research (2018) DOI:10.1093/nar/gky872
Cancer research and the future of precision cancer treatment will be accelerated by a new tool developed by scientists at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. The novel tool, called Cell Model Passports, acts as a central hub for the rapidly expanding number of cancer models, which are critically needed for cancer research.

The Cell Model Passports website contains easily searchable data on thousands of cell lines and a growing number of organoid lines
The Passports accelerate and empower research by providing information on genome sequence data, key driver gene mutations and drug susceptibility for over 1,000 cancer cell models from 43 cancer types of 29 tissues, including lung, breast and colon. Importantly, the Cell Model Passports will be regularly updated with new cell models, genomic and functional datasets as they are generated.

Cell Model Passports, a user-friendly website described in Nucleic Acids Research will enable cancer researchers in both academia and industry not only to access high-quality raw and processed genomic and functional datasets but also to select the best model(s) for their research. Before now, finding the most relevant cancer model(s) has often been difficult and time consuming – the Passports will streamline this process.

“We are offering a ‘one-stop-shop’ for cancer researchers. With Cell Model Passports we have combined quality controlled data on the genetics, clinical history and drug sensitivities for different cancer types to form a single, user-friendly hub for the first time. By freely sharing this data we aim to provide the shortcuts that will enable researchers around the world to accelerate cancer research.”

Syd Barthorpe Joint first author at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and co-curator of Cell Model Passports

Oesophageal organoids: clusters of cells that constitute mini organs in a dish.  Image credit: Wellcome Sanger Institute, Genome Research Limited
Through the use of organoid technology – the growth of mini organs in a dish from fresh tumour samples – researchers are increasingly able to develop models that reflect patient tumours. These can be used to investigate the susceptibility of varying cancer subtypes to panels of different drugs and to pin down key genes essential for cancer survival to serve as new drug targets.

The organoids that form part of the Cell Model Passports are grown from fresh tumour tissues that are sent to the Sanger Institute from four clinical sites across the UK and are part of the Human Cancer Models Initiative, an international project to generate new cancer cell models.

The Cell Model Passports hub paves the way for the Cancer Dependency Map, or Cancer DepMap – a rulebook for the precision treatment of cancer. Through the use of organoid technology, genome sequencing, gene knock-out experiments and drug testing, scientists are identifying the weak spots of different cancers. As a result of this work, new guidelines for the future of precision cancer treatments will be created and shared.

“With organoid technology we are able to grow tumours in a dish and gain new insights into how cancers develop and respond to different drugs. Next on our agenda is to produce more cell models for cancers of high clinical unmet need. We believe the Cell Model Passports will streamline cancer research and will be a critical foundation for a cancer DepMap.”

Dr Hayley Francies Wellcome Sanger Institute’s co-lead author and co-curator of Cell Model Passports

The Cancer Dependency Map is an international effort, with the Broad Institute in the United States, to bridge the translational gap that exists between genomic sequencing and providing precision medicine to the many cancer patients. Currently, scientists do not fully understand the consequences of genetic alterations that occur in cancer. What is known is that when an error impacts a critical gene, a cancerous cell will adapt by adjusting other genes’ activity. These adaptations represent dependencies: vulnerabilities that might serve as targets for designing new therapies or repurposing existing ones. Mapping these dependencies is essential to making precision cancer medicine a reality.

“In 10 years’ time we aspire to provide precision medicine for the majority of cancer patients. The Cancer DepMap – a rulebook for selectively targeting cancer cells – will empower a new generation of targeted treatment for patients.”

Dr Mathew Garnett Leader of the Cancer Dependency Map project at the Wellcome Sanger Institute

Information on individual cancer cell lines and organoids contained in the Cell Models Passport website, including data on genetics, epigenetics, clinical history and drug sensitivity. Click on the image to see more

More information


This research was supported by CRUK (C44943/A22536), SU2C (SU2C-AACRDT1213), Wellcome (102696) and Wellcome Sanger Institute core funding (206194).


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