A biomedical research team from the University of Girona in Spain has found a way to isolate breast cancer stem cells in part thanks to 3D printed scaffolds. The team says that this ability will make it easier to study breast cancer cells and to develop pharmaceutical treatments that will reduce the risk of relapse in patients.
Triple negative breast cancer is an aggressive subtype of breast cancer whose chances of relapse are higher than other types of the disease (20 to 30% of patients end up needing multiple treatments). This recurrence of the disease is the result of tumour cells remaining in the body even after chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
By isolating triple negative breast cancer stem cells, the researchers from the University of Girona aim to facilitate the development of drugs that directly and exclusively attack the cancer cells without damaging healthy cells in the body.
“A tumor is made up of many types of cells, and these are the cells we have in low proportions. Therefore, it is complicated to locate these cells within the tumor,” explained Teresa Puig, director of the Oncology Unit of the Group for the Investigation of New Therapeutic Targets. “This new system is cleaner, allowing us to work more directly with these types of cells later.”
The researchers were able to successfully isolate the breast cancer cells by using a scaffold structure, 3D printed using the BCN3D Sigma. However, it did take some time and effort to come up with the optimal 3D structure to enable the cells to not only survive but thrive.
In the development stage, the research team generated a series of 27 scaffold configurations using the Taguchi experimental design method. In practice, the structures were created by playing with various print parameters, including layer height, infill density, infill pattern, infill direction and flow. These were then analyzed and subsequently 3D printed using the BCN3D Sigma.
With at least ten 3D printed copies of each scaffold type, the researchers were then able to test each structure’s efficacy as a cell culture environment. Importantly, the researchers were also seeking to determine the optimal geometry for separating the breast cancer stem cells from other cells.
Joaquim de Ciurana, director of the Research Group on the Engineering of Products, Processes, and Production, explained: “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.”
Having found the best scaffold structure for isolating the cancer cells, the researchers will proceed by studying the stem cells in more depth than was possible with more conventional two-dimensional cell cultures. The ultimate goal is to locate bio-indicators that cause the tumours and find drugs to attack them without harming other cells in the body.
Moreover, 3D printing enabled the researchers to improve the efficiency of the research process, by reducing costs compared to traditional methodologies. The potentially game-changing achievement by the University of Girona team was recently published in both the International Journal of Molecular Sciences and Polymers.