Israeli researchers tout ‘breakthrough’ 3D bioprints of active tumor

Scientists at Tel Aviv University boast development of technology will help find optimal treatments for each tumor and accelerate future treatments

Illustration for demonstration of 3D printing of a tumor in a brain microenvironment according to a computed 3D model. (Tel Aviv University)
Illustration for demonstration of 3D printing of a tumor in a brain microenvironment according to a computed 3D model. (Tel Aviv University)

Researchers at Tel Aviv University say the first 3D bioprinting of an entire active tumor marks a scientific breakthrough that will aid the battle against cancer by allowing researchers to develop bespoke cures in a simulated setting.

The university announced Wednesday that the researchers created a 3D print of glioblastoma — the deadliest type of brain cancer — from human tissues that contain all components of the malignant tumor.

“The breakthrough will enable much faster prediction of best treatments for patients, accelerate the development of new drugs and discovery of new druggable targets,” the university said in a statement.

The 3D model of the tumor includes “a complex system of blood vessel-like tubes through which blood cells and drugs can flow, simulating a real tumor,” according to the university.

The study was led by Prof. Ronit Satchi-Fainaro, who heads the university’s Cancer Research and Nanomedicine Laboratory. Numerous other researchers helped develop the 3D models, which the university said used samples taken from neurosurgery patients at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital.

Satchi-Fainaro explained that the team decided to use 3D bioprinting after being unable to detect a protein that was helping the cancer cells spread rather than fighting them when using 2D petri dish samples.

“The reason is that cancer, like all tissues, behaves very differently on a plastic surface than it does in the human body,” she said.

“It’s not only the cancer cells,” Satchi-Fainaro continued. “It’s also the cells of the microenvironment in the brain… The physical and mechanical properties of the brain are different from those of other organs.”

She and the research team thus created a 3D model to be able to develop the best form of treatment for each patient.

“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,” she said. “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.”

The 3D bioprint was first used by the team to investigate the role of the P-selectin in boosting the growth of tumors in mice. Those results, published earlier this year, raised hopes for the development of P-selectin blockers that can help inhibit cancer growth.

“We found by blocking the expression of P-selectin we stop the microglia from suppressing the immune system and supporting tumor growth in the brain. We were able to successfully test this on mice, and on tumor cells in the 3D model, with very encouraging results,” she told The Times of Israel in April.

Prof. Ronit Satchi-Fainaro, Director of the Cancer Biology Research Center and the Head of the Cancer Research and Nanomedicine Laboratory at Tel Aviv University (courtesy of Tel Aviv University)

Glioblastoma only has a 40 percent survival rate after a year and 5% after five years, even with surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

“We’re talking about one of the most aggressive cancers, which is considered stage four from diagnosis, and this is really exciting,” she said at the time. “It is paving the way for a new therapy for a disease that hasn’t had anything new in terms of treatment over the last decade.”

The team’s research on the benefits of 3D bioprints was published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed academic journal Science Advances.

Satchi-Fainaro noted the difficulty of discovering “novel druggable target proteins and genes in cancer cells” of a human patient.

“Our innovation gives us unprecedented access, with no time limits, to 3D tumors mimicking better the clinical scenario, enabling optimal investigation,” she said.

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