Researchers at the University of Girona have successfully isolated stem cells from one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer – using 3D printing. The goal of isolating the cells is to find a drug that attacks them exclusively, without damaging healthy parts of the body.
According to Dr. Teresa Puig, Director of the Oncology Unit of the Group for the Investigation of New Therapeutic Targets, these breast cancer cells still remain in the body after treatment via chemotherapy or radiotherapy and often cause relapse. This particular type of cancer is the triple negative subtype, which occurs in young women and leads to relapses in 20 to 30 percent of patients within three or four years.
“A tumor is made up of many types of cells, and these are the cells we have in low proportions,” said Dr. Puig. “Therefore, it is complicated to locate these cells within the tumor. This new system is cleaner, allowing us to work more directly with these types of cells later.”
The research is documented in a paper entitled “Screening of Additive Manufactured Scaffolds Designs for Triple Negative Breast Cancer 3D Cell Culture and Stem-Like Expansion.” The main goal of the study was to develop a scaffold architecture that afforded a high breast cancer cell proliferation rate. Several values of the selected parameters, which included layer height, infill density, infill pattern, infill direction, and flow, were tested on the slicing software BCN3D Cura and the scaffolds were 3D printed on the BCN3D Sigma 3D printer.
Using the Taguchi experimental design method, 27 scaffold configurations were manufactured and analyzed. At least 10 copies of each configuration were 3D printed to perform the characterization and cell proliferation assays, with the objective being to see which geometric form was most effective in separating the stem cells.
“This structure is a mesh that, on the basis of a series of parameters such as porosities, spaces, and the distance between one element and another, is ultimately able to allow cells to stick to the matrix or not, to grow, and to be able to ‘enrich themselves’, as our colleagues say,” said Joaquim de Ciurana, Director of the Research Group on the Engineering of Products, Processes, and Production.
Before this research, these cell cultures were produced two-dimensionally, which did not allow the cells to be effectively separated, so specific drugs could not be produced to attack the cells. But the 3D method in which the researchers isolated the stem cells for this study allows them to better study the cells in order to find the bio-indicators responsible for the tumors. They will then be able to attack them with pharmaceuticals, although the research is not yet at that point.
“We still do not know how to treat them, but we have found a way to isolate them,” said Dr. Puig.
This method is also more cost-effective than traditional analysis methods, allowing for more frequent experiments in the future.
Authors of the paper include Emma Polonio-Alcalá, Marc Rabionet, Antonio J. Guerra, Marc Yeste, Joaquim de Ciurana and Teresa Puig. Several of these scientists were also involved in a recent study about 3D printed composite stents.
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