Drexel Professor Fights Cancer with 3D Printing

Technology is evolving constantly, especially in the world of 3D printing. Printing results can be as simple as spoons and forks or even as advanced as homes. One of the most buzzworthy topics in the medical field is the use of 3D printing to change the way we fight cancer. Wei Sun, PhD, Professor of Drexel's Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics, along with his team of students is keeping Drexel in the news by printing 3D tumors to study cancer formation.

By combining existing cervical cancer cells and biomaterials, the team processes the combination through their 3D printer and creates cancerous tumors for study and research. As opposed to 2D models of tumors, 3D versions contain realistic tissues and more simulated tumor characteristics. Sun explains that "the additional dimensionality of 3D culture leads to differences in cell activities, including morphology, proliferation, and gene and protein expression." Due to the more complicated structural build shown on a 3D model, treatment that may not have worked on a 2D model is more likely to work because of the 3D model's accuracy in depicting real tumors. In addition to improved precision, testing on the model is more beneficial than direct animal or human testing because the model can produce more probable results without causing harm to a subject.

3D printing may seem like a new concept, but Sun has been in the business since the early 2000s. In 2002, he patented a 3D printer that printed cells, one of the first of its kind. Recently, Sun and the team patented one of their 3D printer models which keep a majority of cells usable for experimentation as opposed to existing models.

Sun and his team are the first to report in vitro tumor model progress in the 3D printing arena. Their hope is multifaceted: to take the simulation they've created, attach it to tissue recreations to study cancer's growth process, and ultimately prevent cancer from forming. This could lead to individualized study of cancer patients using their cells, thus better targeting treatment for their conditions. Ultimately down the road, a cure for cancer could result.

The 3D tumor printing research is published in Volume 6, Number 3 of Biofabrication.

This is just one innovation from Drexel's College of Engineering. Visit the College of Engineering to see other ways our students make a difference.