Most cancers are diagnosed – and their biology studied – on plastic dishes or on microscope slides. This two-dimensional approach doesn’t really reflect what happens in the human body, where tumours are three dimensional.
While labs globally are growing 3-D tumours in a dish, the process is labour intensive and costly as well as taking up to weeks to create a single tumour.
Now CBNS and Australian researchers have developed a 3D printer that creates hundreds of these 3D tumours in a tumour-like environment in hours, not weeks. The technology – recently published in the journal iScience and already garnering interest from international pharmaceutical companies – essentially will allow a patient to have multiple samples of their cancer grown in a lab, each one able to be tested against either different drugs or different doses of a drug to see which has the best chance of working, without using trial and error in the patient.
These multiple life-like clones of the patient’s tumour can also be studied to see which cells survive drug treatment – and therefore represent a risk for treatment failure, as well as providing previously unseen insights into how tumours in general grow.
The study, led by Professors Maria Kavallaris AM and Justin Gooding, have shown that the specially designed 3D printer, which the authors state looks like an espresso machine, has been successful in creating multiple 3D versions of breast cancer cells and neuroblastoma cells. Importantly these mini-tumours sit in a well which is essentially a controlled environment, “similar to that which the actual tumour is sitting, regarding nutrients and other fluids,” Professor Kavallaris said.
The printer recently won the Australian Good Design Award, which Professor Gooding added “wasn’t just restricted to scientific instruments – it beat sports cars!”
According to Professor Gooding the research team created almost a hundred of these mini-tumours in 80 minutes with them growing to a size suitable for high throughput drug testing can be used to find an effective anticancer drug – within two days. “This would essentially mean we can test potential drugs against models of a tumour, and not just tumour cells on a slide, within days of diagnosis,” he said.
The paper in iScience has become the most read article in iScience, a journal of the highly prestigious Cell stable.
The technology is being commercialised by Inventia Life Science, a company that was created to develop this technology by CEO Julio Ribiero in partnership with Professor Gooding and Kavallaris from the Australian Centre for Nanomedicine at the University of New South Wales of which they are both co-directors, and the Children’s Cancer Institute.
For a video of how the technology works visit Inventia here.
See the 9 News piece here.