Researchers at the University of Minnesota have come up with a new way to examine cancer cells which can potentially result in new and better treatment outcomes.
A novel method has been developed by the research team to examine the cancer cells in a 3D in vitro model—that is, in a culture dish instead of in an animal or human.
Along with her fellow researchers, Angela Panoskaltsis-Mortari, PhD, Vice Chair for Research and Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Director of the 3D Bioprinting Facility, and Member of the Masonic Cancer Center discovered that cells behave in a different way in this 3D soft tissue environment compared to how they behave on 2D surfaces made of glass or plastic, for instance. The study has been recently reported in Advanced Materials.
This model is more consistent with what the body is like, and, therefore, studying the effects of drugs with human cells at this level makes the results more meaningful and predictive of what will happen in the body.
Panoskaltsis-Mortari, PhD, Vice Chair for Research and Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota Medical School
The new 3D vascularized tumor tissues serve as a platform for identifying promising therapies as well as screening anticancer drugs. Most significantly, this latest model also offers a method for studying metastatic cells—cancer cells that have penetrated a blood vessel and migrated to another site.
One of the reasons this model is successful is that we are better able to control the environment. We are able to slowly cause the release of the chemical mediators and create a chemical gradient. It gives the cells time to behave in a way that’s similar to what we think happens in the body.
Fanben Meng, Post-Doctoral Associate, College of Science and Engineering, University of Minnesota
“All of this is enabled by our custom-built 3D printing technology, which allows us to precisely place clusters of cells and chemical depots in a 3D environment,” stated Michael C. McAlpine, PhD, the paper’s co-corresponding author and Benjamin Mayhugh Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota.
The researchers had initially concentrated on melanoma and lung cancer. The subsequent step is to integrate a more number of cell types, particularly immune system cells and cell therapies, and then analyze those interactions.
Testing anti-cancer drugs and cell therapies are both concepts that the University of Minnesota is world renowned for, and, with this model, we continue to be on the forefront of those innovations. Something like this can yield some very important answers between the relationship of vasculature and drugs because this is modular; you can add elements to it and make it more sophisticated. You can even use the patients’ own tumor cells in this model.
Daniel Vallera, PhD and Professor, Therapeutic Radiology-Radiation Oncology, Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Minnesota Medical School
Vallera is also a member of the Masonic Cancer Center.
The study was made possible through an R21 grant awarded by the NIBIB (#1R21EB022830 “3D Bioprinting for Esophageal Reconstruction”), the NIH’s New Innovator Award (#1DP2EB020537 “3D Printed Nano-Bionic Organs”), a seed grant from the UMN Institute for Engineering in Medicine, the UMN Prostate & Urologic Cancer Translational Working Group pilot project award, the UMN 3D Bioprinting Facility, and a collaboration between the College of Science and Engineering and the Medical School at the University of Minnesota.