News Feature | April 15, 2014

Scientists Find Printing 3D Tumors Could Aid Cancer Research

By Marcus Johnson

Researchers at Drexel University have begun using 3D printing in order to further study the cancer cells that make up tumors. The researchers have stated that the 3D cells they’ve printed are much more structurally similar to natural cancer than 2D cultured cells that grow in a lab dish. It is believed that the increased realism could help aid in new studies on cancers, which could in turn help generate more effective cancer drugs.

The researchers used gelatin, fibrous proteins, and cervical cancer cells to create the 3D tumors. The proteins and cancer cells were mixed together and then put through the machine, resulting in the printer producing a grid structure that was 10 millimeters in width and length and 2 millimeters in height. The researchers say that the extracellular matrix of a tumor is similar to the structure printed. The cancer cells then continued to grow and took on a spherical shape. Researchers said that the spherical 3D shape allowed them to obtain more details about the characteristics of a particular cancer, including a cell’s shape, proliferation, gene, and protein expression.

Wei Sun, a professor at Drexel who was involved in the study, said that the 3D models could help improve cancer research. “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,” said Sun. “We can also use these models to test the efficacy and safety of new cancer treatment therapies and new cancer drugs.”

While the mechanical force of printing can damage cells, the scientists have set certain peramaters during the printing process that enabled 90 percent of the cells to survive the printing process.