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Cancer Researchers to Create Live Tumors With a 3D Printer


April 25, 2014
Health, Technology

Drexel’s Wei Sun, PhD, Albert Soffa chair professor in the College of Engineering, has devised a method for 3D printing tumors that could soon be taking cancer research out of the petri dish.

Using a mixture of cervical cancer cells and a hydrogel substance that resembles an ointment balm, Sun can print out a tumor model that can be used for studying their growth and response to treatment. This living model will give cancer researchers a better look at how tumors behave and a more accurate measure of how they respond to treatment.

“This is the first time to report that one can build a 3D in vitro tumor model through 3D Printing technology,” said Sun, the director of Drexel’s research center at the Shanghai Advanced Research Institute. “This may lead to a new paradigm for cancer research and for individual cancer therapies. We have developed a technological platform and would like to work with biologists and pathologists to encourage them to use the developed platform for 3D biology and disease studies.”

While researchers have been able to make cell models and tissues using rapid prototyping methods for some time, Sun’s lab, is the first to produce a living 3D tumor model through additive manufacturing –also known as 3D printing. In a study published in the journal Biofabrication in April, Sun reports a procedure his team developed for growing research-grade models of cervical cancer tumors.

Cancer researchers are aware that working with two-dimensional samples comes with inherent limitations. For example, tumors in the body have a much different surface area, shape and cellular composition than samples grown in a lab, thus data from tests of cancer treatments will differ from the reaction of an actual tumor to the drugs. But until now, these in vitro cell cultures were their best option.

“The keys to keeping the cells alive were controlling the temperature of the nozzle and using a hearty strain of cancer cells,” Sun said. “We chose the Hela cell, which is a robust form of cervical cancer that has been used in research for many years. Because of this, we had a good idea as to how it would behave under certain conditions. This allowed us to control the variables of the extrusion process until we were able to successfully create a model.”

Sun’s team plans to continue its research in hopes of creating tumors that are even more similar to those that grow in the body. They will work to print tumors composed of multiple different cells –a trait often found in those removed from cancer patients. In addition, the group is working on ways to attach the models to tissues and vasculature that they’ve printed, which would recreate the way tumors grow in their bodily habitat.

“We will try to understand the cell-cell and cell-substrate communication and immune responses for the printed tumor-like models,” Sun said. “Our goal is to take this tumor-like model and make it into a more of an in vivo simulation. And to apply it to study the development, invasion and metastasis of cancer, to test the efficacy and safety of new cancer drugs, as well as the specific therapy for individual cancer patient”

– See more at: http://drexel.edu/now/news-media/releases/archive/2014/April/3Dprintingtumors/#sthash.QVJYzbp2.dpuf

“Two-dimensional cell culture models are traditionally used for biology study and drug screening,” Sun said. “However, two-dimensional culture models can not represent true 3D physiological tissues so it lacks the microenvironment characteristics of natural 3D tissues in vivo. This inherent inadequacy leads to shortcomings in cancer research and anti-tumor drug development. On the other hand, 3D tumor models can represent true tumor 3D pathological organizations and will lead to a new paradigm for cancer study.”

As part of the National Science Foundation-funded study, Sun tested his tumor model against a two-dimensional culture sample using a common anti-cancer drug. Sun’s 3D printed tumors showed more resistance to chemical treatment than the same cancer cells grown in a petri dish –an illustration of the disparity that exists between test results and success rates of cancer treatments.

Sun, who is a mechanical engineering researcher with a focus on biomodeling, designed and patented a special 3D printer in 2002 so his lab, the Drexel Biofabrication Laboratory, could make tissue samples and bone scaffolds as part of their research. As his work progressed, it became apparent that the next step was to figure out a way to print living 3D models of tissues and organs.

With a significant background in the extrusion, or additive, modeling process, Sun and his team were able to control for the main variables: diameter of nozzle, speed and pressure of extrusion, pattern and size of deposition, and viscosity and temperature of substrate materials.

For the undertaking, Sun’s team, composed of researchers at Drexel University, Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, and Drexel-Shanghai Advanced Research Center in Shanghai, China, used a multi-nozzle printer to extrude a gelatinous mixture of hydrogels and living cervical cancer cells. The result was a cellular deposition in which 90 percent of the cancer cells survived the process and within eight days had grown into spheroid-shaped tumors.

“The keys to keeping the cells alive were controlling the temperature of the nozzle and using a hearty strain of cancer cells,” Sun said. “We chose the Hela cell, which is a robust form of cervical cancer that has been used in research for many years. Because of this, we had a good idea as to how it would behave under certain conditions. This allowed us to control the variables of the extrusion process until we were able to successfully create a model.”

Sun’s team plans to continue its research in hopes of creating tumors that are even more similar to those that grow in the body. They will work to print tumors composed of multiple different cells –a trait often found in those removed from cancer patients. In addition, the group is working on ways to attach the models to tissues and vasculature that they’ve printed, which would recreate the way tumors grow in their bodily habitat.

“We will try to understand the cell-cell and cell-substrate communication and immune responses for the printed tumor-like models,” Sun said. “Our goal is to take this tumor-like model and make it into a more of an in vivo simulation. And to apply it to study the development, invasion and metastasis of cancer, to test the efficacy and safety of new cancer drugs, as well as the specific therapy for individual cancer patient.”


10 Responses to Cancer Researchers to Create Live Tumors With a 3D Printer

  1. EC Prinsloo u13103629 May 4, 2014 at 5:28 am #

    The discovery of the 3-D printer was already evolutionary, now this is absolutely out of this world! The fact that they found a way to recreate a living cancer tumor makes me wonder what else can be “printed”. That they found a way to recreate this tumor and keep 90 percent of the cells alive is just downright amazing. This can not only be used to study and find cures for other illness, if this smart technological bio science is applied to normal cells, just as much can be done! They might one day be able to “print” new organs that the receivers body won’t reject because it is his or her own cells. That would be so amazing. More people will be able to receive organs they need and it can even be used to fix old ones. So many lives will be saved!

  2. Byron Sonnekus 14188920 May 1, 2014 at 11:19 pm #

    This article is a great example of the integration of engineering and biological sciences which could ultimately lead to a great number of advances in the treatment and cure for cancer patients. This research gives medical professionals the opportunity to understand cancer cells in greater depth and allow them to gain a greater understanding. This is already a great advancement from petri dish cultured cancer cells and the 3-D replications give the exact characteristics of the original tumor.

    The only major challenge left now is developing an environment similar to the human body to which the cells can be exposed.A question that may be raised is the fact that they are testing effects on the tumor but what about the effects on a real functioning human body ? This research could ultimately lead to a cure for cancer which could hopefully be distributed throughout the globe and not only to the rich and powerful.

  3. majono May 1, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

    ghghh

  4. HP van Schalkwyk (u14040914) April 29, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    This is a ground breaking discovery and can have massive implication on how research is done concerning cancer studies. This can be instrumental as it will allow scientists to study the cancer cell much more in depth and closer to its actual form and composition in a real human body.
    I do however have a few questions and possible concerns. Chief among which is the fact that although this discovery will greatly improve the research that can be done it still does not replicate actual human body conditions. The human body is a complicated system build up out of interrelated and depended subsystems. This 3D printed tumour cannot research the effect of cancer drugs in an actual system. Drugs that might work on this model may fail when applied to an actual human system. Another question is how do we know that the process of 3D printing does not alter or affect the Cancer cells that are used? 3D printing in itself is a relatively new field, so how reliable is the printers that are used and are they accurate enough to produce a reliable likeness of the tumour.
    Researchers are developing ways to attach the models to tissues and vasculature to reproduce conditions of the body. However this may still take a while before it will be operational. As such this does not seem to be an immediate fix and may only be able to produce valuable research in the future. This research hold great possibilities for the future and might one day produce results that will contribute towards curing cancer. However for now it may be too expensive and new to be considered an immediate solution.

  5. 14114578 April 29, 2014 at 6:40 am #

    Simply amazing !!!!

    I love the way that technology evolves so quickly. I once witnessed on television how a spanner is constructed in a type of 3D printer and it was phenomenal. How a machine can make something out of basically nothing is simply mind blowing!! It is remarkable how scientists managed to “print” a 3D model of a tumor.

    After reading this article it goes without saying that the 3D printer will make an immense contribution in finding the improve the treatment for cancer and hopefully finally the cure. I can only imagine what medical advantages could be the product of the revolutionizing technology and the hard working scientists behind the technological advancement in the future.

  6. Matt B (14022363) April 28, 2014 at 8:03 am #

    3D-Printing is simply revolutionizing technological world and now it’s being incorporated into the medical field. Who would have thought that you could actually “print” a live tumor?

    With intensive research being dedicated to cancer cures, it is only vital that such interesting and valuable technology is used to enhance and improve one’s understanding of this disease. Visualization is always a key aspect to understanding how and why things work the way they do, with the use of this technology, researches can now do the same with a tumor. Not only will this be an exciting event to actually watch a tumor grow, develop and react to stimuli outside the body, it will most likely lead to an increase in the rate at which medical researches produce a cure. An interesting development is that one can now use this 3D tumor to actually test medication on without using any invasive procedures resulting in less risk for patients.

    This is certainly an innovative idea incorporating engineering and medicine however I am sure that it is an extremely expensive procedure and as a result would probably limit the extent of research which will be conducted. I am confident though that this is only the beginning and that with the correct investments by governments many findings will develop not only in cancer research but in other fields as well.

  7. Ragadza(14145449) April 28, 2014 at 6:00 am #

    Wow…its so amazing to see how technology is growing and keep on improving our lives. If they can see the tumors in 3D it simply means that they can do more investigation and end up finding cure for cancer. We can now fight against cancer with confident, knowing that there are some people out there who are using this technology to make things better each and every day.

  8. Devan Winterton (14011426) April 27, 2014 at 4:59 am #

    As a medical student I could only wish to work in a laboratory with such facilities and have colleagues with such expertise. Research such as this is truly inspiring and motivates me to conduct similar ground-breaking studies. 3D printing is an extremely advanced tool that will help millions in their struggles against live threatening diseases such as cancer.

    I do have questions: wouldn’t acquiring the necessary funds to conduct the research be quite challenging, since 3D printing technology is relatively new and quite expensive? Also, how long will it be before such technology will be available, if ever, to other institutions in order to conduct their own experiments, possibly using other cancer cells and alternative treatments?

    This article is proof that technological advances are truly innovative and, with the determination and skill set of devoted researchers, will take the medical field to an entirely new level.

    Yours faithfully
    Devan Winterton
    14011426

  9. u14052564 April 27, 2014 at 1:46 am #

    With an alarming increase in the number of cancer occurrences, advancements in treatment research of cancer has become a necessity. The 3D printer has brought about tremendous progress in the fight against cancer as it will help scientists and researchers to observe tumours in a manner which has previously not been attempted. The benefits of the printer will help to find new methods of treatment and maybe even a possible cure to cancer.

  10. u14068682 April 26, 2014 at 6:04 am #

    3D printing is the way of the future and will change the face of medicine. Tumors printed with the 3D printer will give cancer researchers a better look at how tumors behave and a more accurate measure of how they respond to treatment. This will greatly benefit cancer research and ultimately cancer cure and prevention.

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