Scientists used a 3D printer to make spherical tumors in the lab that closely resemble real cancer cells to better understand their structure and behavior, how to stop their spread, and to come up with better, highly-specific targeted treatments.
Traditionally, researchers working towards a cure for cancer have to perform in vitro studies using two-dimensional tumor models.
A typical tumor model consists of a single layer of cancer cells on which experimental drugs are introduced against to determine their effectiveness.
The lab-grown cells are helpful in understanding the reaction of real cancer cells, but a 3D model can better mimic their characteristics and behavior.
Now, scientists have devised a new fabrication technique using a 3D printer to make 3D tumors from cervical cancer cells.
The cervical caner cells were combined with extracellular matrix materials such as gelatin and alginate to construct models using their own 3D printer.
Other techniques often fail to create viable 3D models of tumors. But after some tweaking, they were able to create stable constructs and achieve 90 percent cell viability using their own 3D printing method.
The researchers claim that the HeLa cells used for their 3D printed tumors demonstrated higher proliferation rates compared to traditional 2D planar culture models.
Moreover, the 3D models tended to clump cells into spheres rather than layers, thus mimicking the structure and properties of real tumors more accurately.
The 3D printed tumors were also observed to have higher chemoresistance properties compared to 2D models. This is important because cancer cells tend to build resistance against chemotherapy drugs which makes the disease more difficult to treat.
Researchers want to understand the mechanism behind chemoresistance and create ways to overcome it.
"With further understanding of these 3D models, we can use them to study the development, invasion, metastasis and treatment of cancer using specific cancer cells from patients,"
"We can also use these models to test the efficacy and safety of new cancer treatment therapies and new cancer drugs."
The research paper, published in the journal Biofrabrication, details why and how the researchers used HeLa cells because these are the first human cells to replicate in vitro and are being widely used in tumor research.
HeLa cells have been responsible for many medical science breakthroughs, including the creation of the polio vaccine. They are ideal cells for experimentation because they are “immortal” and easily replicate in an artificial environment where researchers can try new drugs before human trials.
Cancer drugs are also being tested using animal models, but these only approximate more complex human physiology, and existing cell lines do not show how real cells behave in the human body.
With 3D models, scientists hope they can observe how cancer cells act and experiment on them in a native 3D environment without having to test drugs on animals nor humans.
Researchers are finding new ways to fight cancer because existing treatments like radiation and chemotherapy destroy both cancer and healthy cells.
By studying 3D printed tumors, they can come up with a more specific approach to destroy cancer cells alone.
Millions of cancer patients are anxious for any breakthrough. The number of cancer cases is expected to rise from 14 million in 2012 to 22 within the next two decades according to the World Health Organization.
An advantage of bioprinting is that it can use a patient's own cells to transplant organs without the risk of rejection.