Research

3D Pancreatic Model Refines Research

Every Wednesday in November as part of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, we are highlighting innovative cancer research in our battle to improve survival rates. This week we are looking at the development of a 3D pancreatic tumour model.

Pancreatic cancer cell cultures photographed under eight different circumstances showing their 3D structure (Osuna de la Peña et al., 2021). Photo Credit: Nature.com and their Bioengineered 3D models article.

An international team of researchers have created a three-dimensional model of a pancreatic tumour using patient-derived cells. Their aim is to better understand how pancreatic cancer grows and how it responds to certain chemotherapy drugs.

This study was led by Professors Alvaro Mata from the University of Nottingham (UK), Daqniela Loessner from Monash University (Australia) and Christopher Heeschen from Shanghai Jiao Tong University (China). Dr David Osuna de la Peña, one of the lead researchers on the project from Queen Mary University of London (UK), said:

“There are two main obstacles to treating pancreatic cancer – a very dense matrix of proteins and the presence of highly resistant cancer stem cells (CSCs) that are involved in relapse and metastasis. In our study, we have engineered a matrix where CSCs can interact with other cell types and together, behave more like they do in the body. Opening the possibility to test different treatments in a more realistic manner.”

Currently, research is conducted using a combination of 2-D models and animal models to test and predict treatment types. However, this method fails to accurately mimic some key features of the human body, e.g., tissue composition. Given the differences between the two species, this results in successful treatments in animals being unsuccessful in humans. The introduction of a 3D pancreatic tumour model will help to improve successful treatment rates in humans through a more human-like tumour microenvironment where patient-specific differences can be incorporated. Dr David Osuna de la Peña goes on to say:

“We believe this model moves closer to the vision of being able to take patient tumour cells in hospital, incorporate them into our model, find the optimum cocktail of treatments for a particular cancer and deliver it back to the patient – all within a short timeframe. Although this vision for precision medicine for treating this disease is still a way off, this research provides a step towards realising it.”

Going forward, further understanding of how cancer cells and their respective tumours are formed in the human pancreas is needed. The major challenge remaining is to ensure reliability of the system across different patient groups. This highlights the need for future research and funding clinical trials.

To read more about this study, click here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-25921-9