The fight to cure cancer exists in a three-dimensional world, but up until now scientists have had to make do with testing therapies in the flatlands of a petri dish. Now a team from Drexel University led by Prof. Wei Sun has created 3D prototypes of tumors using additive manufacturing 3D printers. This allows researchers to bypass the two-dimensional stage and focus on tumors that not only use real cancer cells, but behave more like the real beast.
Prof. Wei Sun and his colleagues began by using a strain of cervical cancer cells that were already well-researched and hearty enough to survive the extrusion process. The cells were combined with hydrogel, and sent through a multi-nozzle printer. A full 90 percent of the cells lived through the deposition and grew into a tumor-shaped sphere within eight days. Not only was the group able to fabricate viable tumors, but they were able to adjust the construction down to the very micron.
To demonstrate the differences between flat and three-dimensional tissue samples, the team treated the Hela cervical cancer cells in both a petri dish and a 3D-printed structure. Simply due to their different shapes, the 3D-printed tumors showed an increased immunity to chemical therapy.
Prof. Sun and fellows plan to further their research by printing tumors that more closely resemble that which appear in the body and consist of several different types of cancer cells. They will also work to develop means to attach the tumors to varying types of other printed tissues to more closely observe the way cancer grows in the real world. This way, those studying cancer can skip the dish and animal test phases and go directly to experimenting on human cells. With a disease that requires swift, targeted, and effective intervention, 3D printers will become a valuable new weapon in the arsenal to defeat cancer.