3D printing has given researchers the unprecedented capability to produce parts at an affordable cost. Studies involving everything from chemical compounds to magnetic shielding are furthered with the help of the hardware and the myriad things it can produce.
3D printing may also provide an effective solution when seeking solutions to liver cancer, which is expected to claim more than 30,000 lives in 2019, according to the American Cancer Society.
Florida Tech biomedical engineering professor Kunal Mitra recently completed an 11-month research project, “3D Cell Culture Model for Liver Cancer Treatment.”
Utilizing a 3D bioprinter built by Florida Tech students (which won Best in Show at the 2017 Northrop Grumman Engineering & Science Student Design Showcase at Florida Tech), the system allows for various cancerous liver tissue samples to be printed. These samples are created by developing a mix of a specific hydrogel and cells and using that in the printer.
For Mitra, a key was finding the “sweet spot” in creating an accurate human tissue replica: certain hydrogels will make the tissue too soft, while too much of other hydrogels will make the tissue brittle. The team’s research discovered a solution that properly replicated liver tissue.
Mitra and this team then utilized pulse lasers, which emit light in bursts to remove cancer from the tissue. While the team initially thought the pulse lasers would provide a significantly different result from continuous ones, research didn’t support a stark change. Using various intensities to analyze which was the most effective, their research discovered the most effective cancer-removing laser was at set at a frequency of 10 kilohertz.
Even with bioprinting providing a replica of human tissue, there is still more analysis to be done on the authenticity of the samples and why there wasn’t a large difference between the lasers, according to Mitra. Factors such as the materials used to create the tissue, as well as skin tones, will be examined.
“That’s actually a huge challenge in therapeutic applications of lasers,” he said. “The lasers will penetrate a certain wavelength, and the wavelength is a function of the color of the pigment, so skin color of people will make a big impact in treatment.”
While the use of 3D bioprinting is still a novel part of the scientific journey, there are benefits to replicating tissue for cancer research. When testing cancer cells, researchers have previously used animals with cancer or injected them with cancer cells, an expensive and controversial practice. Bioprinting will allow a multitude of cancerous samples to be produced in a cost-effective, efficient and humane way.
In the future, Mitra hopes the research will lead to an optimization of the tumor microenvironment, characterizing tumor treatment efficacy, and using samples to test a drug’s effectiveness on the cancer. Mitra also sees a multitude of options with 3D bioprinting, ranging from scar tissue treatment on the battlefield to organ transplants and restoration.