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Helping Humans & Reducing Animal Testing: Scottish Researchers 3D Print Malignant Brain Tumors

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hw-logoThe 3D printing of cells and tissues, along with other new techniques in bioprinting, offer all sorts of new hope to patients around the world with a variety of conditions and diseases that often cause chronic pain, and sometimes death. In hopes to relieve human suffering everywhere, researchers are highly motivated and indeed have a sense of urgency in using new tools and technology like 3D printing to their advantage. While this often seems like a race primarily to 3D print human organs—a feat projected perhaps to happen in the next year—there will be quite a wait before they are actually implanted in human bodies and helping to eliminate the long waiting lists.

In the meantime, however, bioprinting is being performed in numerous other ways that are helping patients in the near future or immediately; for example, in the world of dentistry, researchers are now able to engineer new gum and jaw cells. In the world of cardiology, scientists have created a bioprinted cyber patch that is able to offer numerous benefits for cardiac patients, and can actually replace the patient’s tissue.

94456546And while we have now begun to see a growing number of cases where 3D models are used to help in diagnosing, treating, and performing procedures to eliminate tumors, scientists in Scotland are taking this a step further by bioprinting tumor cells and using them in studies which will reveal much more about these often deadly growths—specifically in the brain—with 5,000 people in the UK dying each year from brain tumors.

Thanks to a £67,000 (translating to nearly $100K) grant from the Brain Tumour Charity, this study and work will be performed by Dr. Nicholas Leslie, a tumor biologist at Heriot-Watt University’s Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering, along with 3D printing expert Dr. Will Shu. The researchers are acquainted with other projects which have allowed for brain tumors to be grown or fabricated in labs for the purpose of drug research after harvesting stem cells from live human patients. Through bioprinting actual tumors, however, rather than just cells in petri dishes, Drs. Leslie and Shu expect to see very different behavior from the cancer cells they will study.

“We have developed a novel 3D printing technique to print brain tumor cells for the first time, cells that continue to grow rapidly, more closely mimicking the growth of these aggressive tumors in real life,” said Dr. Leslie. “Our goal is that this should provide a new way of testing drugs to treat brain tumors, leading to new treatments and speeding up the process by which new drugs become available to patients.”

The team at Heriot-Watt will be using this new technique to 3D print stem and other cells isolated from the tumors. They will then create bioprints similar to the tumors, made with a thick mix of matrix proteins and other cells that will grow at an accelerated rate—yes, just like a dreaded, malignant tumor. And as we’ve seen before in studies and innovation in bioprinting arriving from companies like Organovo, while this will allow for results that are much closer to that of human conditions—in this case tumors—a wonderful byproduct of this type of technology is that it helps to reduce and perhaps one day eliminate testing on animals.

cells

An image of the cancer cells from Heriot-Watt University [via The National]

The tumors these researchers are most interested in targeting are glioblastomas. Originating from glial cells in the brain, these tumors are the most common ones found in adults—and they are extremely aggressive. The hope is that a team of cancer biologists, engineers, and clinicians will all work together in making what are definitely more realistic models so that they can delve further into the biology of glioma and the world of these brain tumors, as well as exploring further drug testing.

 “The prognosis for newly diagnosed brain tumor patients is currently very poor and improvements have been very limited, in large part due to the failure in clinical trials of many new drugs,” said Dr. Shu.

 

“We hope our research will help develop a model that closely matches…the response of individuals’ brain tumors to drugs, allowing more effective treatment to be carried out for patients.”

As is often the case with 3D printing, this technology is allowing researchers to go where previously they did not have the tools to explore, most likely culminating in better treatment and, according to Dr. Shu, developments which previously used ‘preclinical animal models that bear a poor relationship with human brain tumor pathology.’ While this may offer substantial help to humans, the fact that we will not have to experiment as much on animals to make progress is obviously extremely appealing.

According to the Brain Tumour Charity, over 10,600 people each year are diagnosed with tumors of the brain, with 5,000 proving fatal. And a surprising fact, which hopefully will change as 3D printing offers enormous strides: less than two percent of cancer research funding is allocated toward the study of brain tumors. What do you think of the idea these researchers have to learn more? Discuss over in the 3D Printing Tumors forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: The National]

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