Stacking the Odds

Scientists 3D Print Living, Viable Brain Tumor, to Practice Killing It

It seems almost unfair for the little cancer blobs.

Aug 19 / Dan Robitzski
Getty / Futurism
Image by Getty / Futurism

A team of mad scientists successfully 3D-printed out a living, “viable” glioblastoma tumor — the deadliest kind of brain cancer — for the express purpose of learning how to kill it.

The tumor, which is made of a brain-like material and artificial blood vessels, is likely the most realistic approximation of glioblastoma available for doctors to work with, according to research published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday. If it’s as realistic as the doctors claim, it could lead to a new generation of highly-effective cancer drugs as well as personalized treatments for glioblastoma patients who currently have a grim prognosis.

“If we take a sample from a patient’s tissue, together with its extracellular matrix, we can 3D-bioprint from this sample 100 tiny tumors and test many different drugs in various combinations to discover the optimal treatment for this specific tumor,” lead study author and Tel Aviv University neuroscientist Ronit Satchi-Fainaro said in a university press release. “Alternately, we can test numerous compounds on a 3D-bioprinted tumor and decide which is most promising for further development and investment as a potential drug.”

Whether it’s for personalized care or a more general attempt to test and develop cancer drugs, the 3D-printed tumor is a huge step forward compared to the models that doctors currently use. In order to prove that a treatment is both safe and effective, scientists have to lab test them on cultured cells, animals, and other models that fall short of a perfect proxy for a human brain tumor growing on a human’s brain.

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“Cancer, like all tissues, behaves very differently on a plastic surface than it does in the human body,” Satchi-Fainaro said in the release. “Approximately 90% of all experimental drugs fail at the clinical stage because the success achieved in the lab is not reproduced in patients.”

Which is why the goal is to use the tumors to test and develop drugs that actually work within the human body instead of just the lab — hopefully leading to the development of treatments that can save lives and eradicate deadly tumors before they get out of control.


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