Professor Benjamin Thierry has advised that technology such as microfluidics and 3D printing may offer new ways to test therapy outside of the body that are closer to real life.
“Instead of having cells sitting in a petri dish, now you can grow cells in some sort of small 3D system, where the cells are exposed to the flow of media (liquid containing nutrients, like blood). You can have different compartments with different types of cells and different tissues. These are tools that we are using to recapitulate the complexity of the real tissue.”
After all, he says, real tissue never contained just one type of cell and cancerous tissue contains both the tumour and the healthy tissue of different cell types and structures.
“They usually are exposed to some sort of mechanical stimulation, from the flow of blood,” he says. “So the tools that we are using allow us to recreate some of they key elements of the physiology.”
In the short term these more complex models are helping scientists to develop better cancer treatments. He has been looking at the effect of radiation on tiny blood vessels to determine their level of sensitivity. The cells that comprise blood vessels turned out to be more sensitive when grown on a petri dish than in 3D.