Scottish scientists plan to 3D print brain tumours in quest for effective drug treatments

Image credit:

A team of scientists from the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh intends to 3D print tumour-like constructs to gain better understanding of the biology of malignant brain tumours that are responsible for the loss of approximately 5,000 lives each year in the UK.  

Image credit:
Image credit:

To that end, Dr Nicholas Leslie – a tumour biologist at the University’s Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering – began working with Dr Will Shu – a renowned 3D printing expert – to carry out the pioneering work which has just been funded by The Brain Tumour Charity.

The research team has already developed several types of “brain tumour in a laboratory” in order to study their behaviour and to test drugs to treat them, including taking brain tumour stem cells from patients. However, it soon became apparent that tumours grown in the lab behave very differently from the way they do in reality.

Because of this, the Heriot-Watt team decided to 3D print brain tumour (glioma) stem cells and other types of cells isolated from patients’ brain tumours. The team is hopeful that by recreating tumour-like constructs they will get much closer results to human tumours and reduce the current dependence on animal testing.

“We have developed a novel 3D printing technique to print brain tumour cells for the first time, cells that continue to grow rapidly, more closely mimicking the growth of these aggressive tumours in real life,” Mr Leslie said.

“Our goal is that this should provide a new way of testing drugs to treat brain tumours, leading to new treatments and speeding up the process by which new drugs become available to patients.”