Scientists Are 3D Printing Whole Cancer Tumours From Scratch

We’ve seen 3D-printed cells, organs and even body parts over the last few years. But now a team of scientists is printing cancerous tumours — modelling the very things that are threatening to kill patients in order to understand how to quell them.

It’s becoming more and more common to use 3D printers to print “sheets” of cells in the lab, including cancerous ones. These 2D panels can be used to test new therapies, but they aren’t perfect: a tumour is a whole other animal, with its own architecture and peculiarities, which can make it tough to predict how the real thing will react to treatment.

So, why not print the tumors themselves? That’s exactly what the Drexel team describes in a paper in Biofabrication. Using a syringe mounted to a specialised 3D cell printer, they printed a mixture of HeLa cells and hydrogel to recreate a cervical cancer tumour. (If you recognise that word, it’s because HeLa cells are named for their progenitor, Henrietta Lacks, whose cancerous cells were taken in the 1950s to create some of the first “immortal” line of research cells).

The result was a synthetic cervical tumour designed to help them understand a real cervical tumour:

The results also reveal that the printed 3D models have more simulated tumour characteristics compared with the 2D planar cell culture models. Those 3D biological characteristics from the printed tumour models in vitro as well as the novel 3D cell printing technology may help the study of 3D tumour biology.

In the future, 3D printing might be a crucial tool in diagnosing and recommending therapy for cancer patients. We’re still far off from that reality — but as this paper proves, we’re getting closer very quickly. [Biofabrication; Vice]

Lead picture: xrender.