Anybody who has either undergone cancer treatment themselves, witnessed a family member undergo treatment, or studied medicine will know that common treatments can be incredibly invasive and damaging to the human body. Chemotherapy, one of the most commonly used treatments for several forms of cancer, can cause a whole host of undesirable side effects, including nausea, anemia, hair loss, infertility, and immunosuppression—to name just a few. It is therefore unsurprising that medical researchers are constantly striving to develop cancer treatments which focus only on the cancerous cells themselves, rather than larger regions of the body, as is the case with treatments such as chemotherapy. In their contribution to the battle against cancer and the adverse side effects of cancer treatments, researchers from QUT have found an unlikely ally: 3D printing.
The research team, led by Professor Dietmar W. Hutmacher of the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation at QUT, has used a 3D printer to develop a gelatin-based hydrogel which closely mimics human tissue. Using the collagen-based gelatin, the researchers have been able to engineer 3D printed tumor microenvironments with which medical professionals can test different anti-cancer drugs. Real tumor cells can be placed within several 3D printed microenvironments, with different combinations of anti-cancer drugs tested on each simultaneously. This process will allow doctors to pinpoint the ideal medical procedure for an individual patient, and fast: “It will cut the process of finding a personalized treatment for each patient down to a week or two,” said Professor Hutmacher.
There are several advantages to this new method of cancer treatment. For one, it is extremely flexible in terms of the ailments it could be used to treat. The hydrogel can be modified to mimic the firmness of cartilage or softness of breast tissue, making it suitable for treatment of all kinds of cancer, as well as for stem cell research and tissue engineering. Another useful feature of the 3D printing technique is its scalability. “Hydrogel is a biomaterial used by thousands of researchers around the globe; gelatine is based on collagen, one of the most common tissues in the human body. We have modified the gelatine to engineer 3D tumour microenvironments. Our big breakthrough is we can produce this high-quality material on a very large scale inexpensively,” said Professor Hutmacher. “It is highly reproducible, which means we have been able to produce this hydrogel hundreds of times, not just once or twice in the lab, so researchers worldwide will be able to create it.”
Because the hydrogel can be modified to mimic the firmness of cartilage or softness of breast tissue it can be used to create models for all types of cancer and also for research on stem cells and tissue engineering.
The exciting 3D printing research project is part of the Biofabrication Research group at IHBI, led by Professor Hutmacher, which launched the world’s first Master of Biofabrication, a dual Australian and European master degree. “Biofabrication is the future of medicine,” said Professor Hutmacher. “It is a multidisciplinary area of research that requires an understanding of chemistry, physics, biology, medicine, robotics and computer science and we welcome graduates from any of these fields to apply for the master degree.”
Other members of the IHBI research team include Dr Daniela Loessner, Associate Professor Travis Klein and PhD student Christoph Meinert. The paper detailing the innovative 3D printed cancer treatment, entitled “Functionalization, preparation and use of cell-laden gelatin methacryloyl-based hydrogels as modular tissue culture platforms”, was published this week in the journal Nature Protocols.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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