The bioprinting sector has taken a very large leap forward. The Drexel Biofabrication lab, led by Wei Sun, PhD,, has just printed its first living cancer cells. Keep in mind though this is not the first time someone has printed living cells.
Organovo, a bio printing company, has already been printing biomaterials such as liver tissues and made the first commercially available bioprinter, NovoGen MMX. This printer works by filling one syringe with thousands of parenchymal liver cells and another syringe with non-parenchymal liver cells and a hydrogel. The syringe with non-parenchymal liver cells prints a honeycomb structure with the syringe with parenchymal liver cells then fills. The well plate is then removed and incubated.
Typically in cancer research two-dimensional in vitro cell cultures are used to test the efficacy of drugs. These 2D models inherently do not have the true 3D physiological tissues and micro characteristics of in vivo 3D tissues. Because of this there is a discrepancy between the reactions of these 2D cells to drugs in the lab versus the treatment of real live patients. However, by 3D printing cancer tumors Sun was able to achieve cells that more closely act like a patient’s tumor. The 3D printed cells showed more similar resistance of anti-cancer drugs to a patient’s tumor than the 2D cells did. This will allow scientist to skip animal testing and study cells in their three dimensional architecture. Sun was able to print these tumors by controlling the printer head nozzle diameter, viscosity and temperature of the substrate materials, pressure and extrusion speed of the material, and pattern and size of the deposited cell material. Similar to the Organovo printer, Sun extruded hydrogels and living cervical cancer cells. From this gelatinous mixture 90 percent of the cells survive and then in eight days grew into 3D tumors. The key to keeping the cancer cells alive is the temperature of the extruding nozzle, and using the Hela cell which is a more robust strain of cervical cancer that has been used in research for years.
The future goal is to print cancer cells that more closely resemble those in the human body which consist of a variety of different cells. Furthermore the group is working to print models of tissue and vasculature to recreate the way tumors actually grow in the human body. Taking this research and applying it to be more individualized so that each patient can get a specialized treatment towards their exact needs is not unheard of. This is basically personalized medicine which finely tunes a treatment to a person’s unique genetic distinctions.