It seems like every time we turn around, someone is printing something new with a 3D printer. People are 3D printing guns. People are 3D printing houses for less than $5,000. People are even 3D printing sex toys. And now, a team at Drexel University is printing real live cancer tumors.
Why would anyone want to do this?
“Two-dimensional cell culture models are traditionally used for biology study and drug screening,” explains Dr. Wei Sun, the director of Drexel’s research center at the Shanghai Advanced Research Institute and professor at Drexel’s College of Engineering. “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.”
Though 3D printing is new to many, Sun has been working with the technology since the early 2000s. In 2002, Sun patented a 3D printer capable of creating tissue samples.
The image seen here is of a living tumor grown in eight days from a printed mixture of cervical cancer cells and a gel-like substance. In Sun’s study, published in the April edition of the journal Biofabrication, 90 percent of the cancer cells survived the process and grew into tumors.
This could change the way that cancer researchers search for a cure for the disease, because the new method would allow them to work with tumors that are almost exactly like the real thing.