Thursday, February 25, 2021

NYU Abu Dhabi develops 3D tumours to better test cancer drugs

Researchers in Abu Dhabi have developed a new paper-based method to create and preserve small lab-grown tumours on which anti-cancer drugs can be tested.

Scientists are likely to get more accurate results when they try drugs out on the 3D tumours compared to other commonly used methods, the researchers said.

While small 3D tumours are already being grown and used in laboratory tests, the new technique offers an improved way to create them in large numbers and store them at low temperatures for future use.

Developed at New York University Abu Dhabi, the technique involves growing 3D cancer tumours that could be as little as 0.1mm in diameter on filter papers similar to coffee filters.

Eighty per cent of candidate drugs will fail. They will show positive effects on 2D cells, but fail with animal tests or clinical trials

Dr Mohammad Qasaimeh, NYUAD

The tumours could be produced in large numbers at one location and stored in liquid nitrogen, before being shipped out to laboratories and used for drug tests at a later date.

“You can roll the paper and put it in liquid nitrogen and store it for the future,” said Dr Mohammad Qasaimeh, an NYU Abu Dhabi assistant professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering, in whose laboratory the work was done.

“When you want to trust your drug, you retrieve these papers, these 3D arrays.”

Currently, potential anti-cancer drugs are often tested on 2D sheets of cells, but these often give unreliable results. In their paper in the journal Lab on a Chip, the researchers described such sheets of cells as “overly simplified”.

“Eighty per cent of candidate drugs will fail. They will show positive effects on 2D cells, but fail with animal tests or clinical trials,” he said.

Dr Qaisameh said 3D tumours were increasingly being used instead of such 2D sheets of cells and in some instances were even being used instead of animal tests, which were also sometimes unreliable.

3D representations of cancer tumours make for much more effective testing for treatments and drugs. Courtesy: NYU Abu Dhabi
3D representations of cancer tumours make for much more effective testing for treatments and drugs. Courtesy: NYU Abu Dhabi

“Although animal models may give insight into key biological responses, the anatomy and physiology of animals are profoundly different from those of humans, and there are ethical concerns regarding their use in research,” the researchers wrote.

Their technique, described in a paper titled, “Cryopreservable arrays of paper-based 3D tumour models for high throughput drug screening,” uses tiny “microspots” on the paper where small aggregations of cancer cells are able to form.

To see how effective their method was, the researchers grew 3D breast cancer tumours and tested out a widely used cancer chemotherapy drug, cisplatin. Tests using the 3D tumours accurately indicated how well the drug worked.

Papers have emerged as “attractive simple tools” for growing 3D cell cultures, helped by the nature of cellulose, the main structural chemical of plant cell walls. The interconnecting fibres of cellulose create an appropriate “niche” for 3D groups of cells to grow.

Until now, however, there has also been a lack of “off-the-shelf” paper-based methods to grow and preserve small 3D tumours. Their methods, the researchers said, involved simple, scalable and inexpensive processes.

The researchers said their method could also be applied to personalised or precision medicine, which tailors treatment to the genetic characteristics of a patient’s tumour. A key emerging way to treat cancer, this improves the effectiveness of treatments and reduces side effects.

“A future extension of this method could also be applied to cancer cells derived directly from patient biopsies, allowing for easy and stream-lined drug screening studies applicable to precision medicine,” the researchers wrote.

The method could be further developed by using high-resolution 3D printers to create particular patterns in the microspots where the 3D tumours grow.

The other researchers behind the new study include Bisan Samara, a former research assistant in Dr Qasaimeh’s laboratory and the first author of the paper.

Published: February 23, 2021 09:04 AM

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