Israeli scientists are using cells from actual patient cancers to print working 3-D models of tumors. The work is ground-breaking—and allows researchers to test treatments in a close-to-real-life situation.
Professor Ronit Satchi-Fainaro leads the revolutionary research at Tel Aviv University (TAU). Her team wanted to test how well potential treatments might work—before using them inside patients’ bodies.
Satchi-Fainaro explains the process this way: Scientists extract “a chunk” of the tumor from the brain of a patient with glioblastoma. That’s an especially aggressive and common form of brain cancer.
Glioblastoma spreads quickly and unpredictably to other parts of the brain. That makes treating the cancer difficult. Increasingly, doctors are looking to experimental medicines to defeat brain cancer instead of surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.
But researchers eager to try new medicines face two challenges: 1) The long drug trial process complicates bringing a new brain cancer drug to market, and 2) It’s humanly impossible to know how a drug will work in a patient’s uniquely created body.
So TAU researchers built the world’s first fully operational 3-D model of a glioblastoma tumor.
Researchers have often 3-D printed organ and tumor models to plan for surgery. More recent innovations have focused on “bioprinting,” which uses live cells as a sort of ink to build up the layers. Previous bioprinting projects have included bladders, lungs, hearts, and blood vessels. (See 3-D Wonders Never Cease.)
The revolutionary part of the TAU tumor is this: Researchers use cancer patients’ own cells to bioprint a personalized, tissue-like tumor—the first “viable,” or working, tumor.
An article in an August issue of the journal Science Advances explains the process:
Scientists use the chunk of tumor to create a gel. The substance mimics brain tissue much more accurately than other mixtures. Scientists print a 3-D model matching the patient’s MRI scans using the gel.
“[What] we wanted to create is a 3-D, as opposed to two-dimensional, plate where we grow the cells in the gel,” says Satchi-Fainaro. “This translates to the behavior of the cancer cells.”
Doctors then pump the patient’s blood through the printed tumor. They administer treatments to see how the man-made tumor responds. Scientists consider a treatment promising if the printed tumor shrinks or if its metabolic activity slows down.
Ofra Benny leads similar tumor research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She says using a patient’s own cells to develop 3-D tumor models could be “a game changer in the field of personalized medicine.”
Why? Advancements in medical care are reasons to give glory to God, and knowing about all the many possibilities can help guide young believers to dream and plan for their own vocations one day.
Pray: For scientists working to ease human suffering and discover new technologies in healthcare.