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Scientists develop way to coax tumour cells to grow into 3-D spheres

June 9, 2011 - Washington

A team of scientists has developed a way to coax tumour cells in the lab to grow into 3-D spheres.

Their discovery takes advantage of an earlier technique of producing spherical cavities in a common polymer and promises more accurate tests of new cancer therapies.

"Sometimes engineering research tends to be a case of a hammer looking for a nail. We knew our previous discovery was new and it was cool," team leader Michael R. King, Ph.D., of Cornell University, explained.

"And now we know it's useful," he said.

Three years ago, the team, in collaboration with Lisa DeLouise, Ph.D., MPD, of Rochester, N.Y., perfected a low-cost, easy fabrication technique to make spherical cavities in PDMS (polydimethylsiloxane), a widely used silicon organic polymer.

More recently, the Cornell team discovered that these cavities could be used as a scaffolding to grow numerous tumour spheroids, which could serve as realistic models for cancer cells.

The three-dimensional spheroids hold the potential to speed cancer drug discovery by providing a realistic and easily accessible substrate on which to test drugs.

Their 3-D nature is an asset because in the body, tumour cells grow in 3-D-yet most laboratory studies of cancer have been done in 2-D, with a single layer of cancer cells grown on the bottom of a petri dish.

Too often a promising 2-D drug candidate fails when it enters the 3-D stage of animal testing. The new 3-D tumour spheroids may help eliminate that problem.

They also offer a realistic tumour oxygen environment that cues the blood vessel growth that nourishes tumours-an appealing target for anti-cancer drug design.

"Basically, any laboratory that works with cells could adopt our new spherical microcavity system to do their own 3-D experiments or drug screening on hundreds or even thousands of little tumour spheroids," King said.

The Cornell team's work appears in the current issue of Biomicrofluidics, a publication of the American Institute of Physics.


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