3D printing is changing the medical field. It has allowed researchers to visually observe patients’ conditions and create replicas of the tumors. 3D printing has even advanced in pharmaceutical sciences. Kulkarni, a graduate student and Matt Confeld, a second year pharmacy student, won first place in the Innovation Challenge. Their clever innovation is known as Opti-M3D. The two grad students designed a method to personalize cancer treatments without relying only on clinical trials of other individuals with similar cancers.
The Opti-M3D is a 3D printed perfusion bioreactor. “Our idea was to have a three-dimensional, an entire tumor cloned, outside of the body,” Kulkarni explained. “So instead of a patient undergoing a treatment, and trial and error over that treatment, we can treat all the replicas of those tumors in a complex environment outside of the body.” Cancer cells vary greatly from person to person, and what worked for one patient can fail on another. By cloning tumors, they would be able to not only move the harsh side effects of anti-cancer treatment away from the patient, but also find exactly which drug to use on the patient by testing on a replica of their exact tumor.
How to Clone a Tumor
The tumor will grow inside the 3D printed biodegradable capsule. The tumor cells are placed on small round pieces of paper, the size of a quarter, and placed inside the capsule. To the naked eye it looks just like drops of water on paper. Just as plants need sunlight and water, cells need an environment much like the human body to grow. The students do this by connecting the capsule with tubes to tanks filled with the cell culture media, and a water pump originally intended to pump chemicals through aquarium water for special fish. With their current pump, they would be able to grow four tumors at once and do multiple drug tests, thus speeding up the process of finding effective treatment, they said. The testing would take around 15-20 days depending on the cancer. The process would save precious time and physical strain for the patient.
They tested their project using cancer cells that they – and this is normal – bought online. No, it wasn’t Ebay. Apparently there is only one strand of cancer cells used for all medical testing. They came from only one patient. This is so that testing can remain consistent.
Confield says, “There are over a hundred different anti-cancer drugs, and they all have various side effects…hair loss, nausea, vomiting, problems with red blood cells and white blood cells.” Kulkarni added, “And after all that you still don’t know whether it was effective or not.”
Both agree that “the less you can give the patient, the better…”