3D test-tube tumours to speed up cancer drug trials

THREE-dimensional cancers have been grown from human tissue in the lab for the first time, raising hopes of faster and more effective testing of new drugs.

Scientists at Stanford University said Sunday that they grew “test-tube tumors” in culture dishes in the same way as the tumors grow in the body, only much faster.

Researchers took normal human cells from the skin, throat and cervix, turning them cancerous by using a virus to tweak genes that control growth. They built up a model of human skin in the lab, watching the cancerous cells break through healthy tissue, as they do in cancer sufferers.

The scientists used their 3D tumors to test 20 experimental cancer drugs, many of which could not easily be tested on animals, identifying three promising options that stopped the cancer invading surrounding tissue.

“Studies of this type, which used to take months in animal models, can now occur on a timescale of days,” said Paul Khavari, who led the research, published in Nature Medicine.

He added, “Now we can create human tumors from multiple different tissues, we have a new way to assess what might be going on in spontaneous human tumors.”

Earlier two-dimensional models of cancer have used cultured cell lines grown in the lab. However, these often contained mutations that did not reflect how cancer cells behave in the body, meaning that tests used on such cultures might be misleading.

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