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Drexel University Leverages 3D Printing for Cancer Research

Additive manufacturing (AM) got its start with rapid prototyping. The ability to develop a new product alongside prototypes that could be produced in hours, on-site, offered tremendous gains for development. Now doctors may be able to leverage the same idea of rapid prototyping to help assist with cancer research.

Researchers at Drexel University have begun to use 3D printers to artificially manufacture cancerous tumors. Doctors intend to use the tumors for medical testing and drug trials, and are hopeful the 3D printed tumors will behave and respond more like actual tumors than current 2D cancer cell cultures. The findings were published in a paper named “Three-dimensional printing of Hela cells for cervical tumor model in vitro” which can be found in the April edition of Biofabrication.

3D printed tumors may soon replace 2D cancer cells for research. Courtesy of the National Cancer Institute.

3D printed tumors may soon replace 2D cancer cells for research. Courtesy of the National Cancer Institute.

From the paper:

“Advances in three-dimensional (3D) printing have enabled the direct assembly of cells and extracellular matrix materials to form in vitro cellular models for 3D biology, the study of disease pathogenesis and new drug discovery. Cell proliferation, matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) protein expression and chemoresistance were measured in the printed 3D cervical tumor models and compared with conventional 2D planar culture models. Over 90% cell viability was observed using the defined printing process. Hela cells in 3D printed models also showed higher MMP protein expression and higher chemoresistance than those in 2D culture.”

In essence, the 3D printed tumors behave more like actual tumors found in patients. Currently, studies on tumors found in patients can only be conducted as part of clinical trials, and pushing the boundaries too far with human subjects raises ethical and moral quandaries. The ability to 3D print tumors may well act as a catalyst for future studies into the disease.

This isn’t the only case of doctors using AM as a form of rapid prototyping to assist with medical studies or procedures. Doctors have also used 3D printed models to prepare for pediatric heart surgery, and part of Organovo’s drive toward 3D printed organic materials is based on a desire for more accurate testing procedures that don’t require a test subject.

Below you’ll find a video that discusses another method for using AM as a cancer treatment.

Source: Biofabrication

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About John Newman

John Newman is a contributing editor to Desktop Engineering magazine. He covers the rapid prototyping and manufacturing beat.

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