Researchers at Penn State have successfully 3D bioprinted breast cancer tumors and treated them in a breakthrough study to better understand the disease that is one of the leading causes of mortality worldwide.
A scientific first, the achievement lays the foundation for precision fabrication of tumor models. The advancement will enable future study and development of anti-cancer therapies without using “in vivo” — or “in animal” — experimentation.
“This will help us understand how human immune cells interact with solid tumors,” said Ibrahim Ozbolat, senior author of the study. “We’ve developed a tool that serves as a clinical test platform to safely and accurately evaluate experimental therapies. It is also a research platform for immunologists and biologists to understand how the tumor grows, interacts with human cells, and metastasizes and spreads in the body.”
Ozbolat specializes in 3D printing to create a range of tissues for human healthcare. The lab’s U.S. National Science Foundation-supported work using 3D bioprinting to help study breast cancer was recently published in Advanced Functional Materials and Biofabrication.
The researchers used a relatively new aspiration-assisted bioprinting technique to locate tumors precisely in three dimensions and create the tissue. The researchers then formed the tissue into a multi-scale vascularized breast tumor model with blood vessels, which they discovered responded to chemotherapy and cell-based immunotherapeutics.
The team first validated the accuracy of its tumor model by treating it with doxorubicin, an anthracycline-based chemotherapeutic drug commonly used for treating breast cancer. Finding that the 3D printed tumor responded to chemotherapy, the researchers went on to test a cell-based immunotherapeutic treatment on the tumor in collaboration with Derya Unutmaz, an immunologist at Jackson Laboratory.
The researchers used human CAR-T cells that were engineered via gene editing to recognize and fight an aggressive form of breast cancer cells. After 72 hours of circulating the edited CAR-T cells through the tumor, the researchers found that the cells within the bioprinted tumor had generated a positive immune response and were fighting off the cancer cells.