BioprintingMedical AMMedical Research

Bioprinted brain model and imaging technique helps advance tumor research

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A joint team of researchers from Rensselaer, Northwestern University and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai has developed a methodology that could improve the treatment of aggressive glioblastoma brain tumors. The process, which combines medical imaging and bioprinting technologies, can help scientists to better understand the complex structure of the tumor type.

Glioblastomas are quickly growing malignant tumors in the brain that are made up of many different cell types, which makes them challenging to treat. Today, glioblastoma treatment typically involves a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Even then, treatment only results in an average survival of 11-15 months.

The new process pioneered by the research group allows for a greater understanding of what happens in the body when glioblastoma cells are present thanks to the use of a 3D bioprinted tumor cell model.

“There is a need to understand the biology and the complexity of the glioblastoma,” explained Xavier Intes, a professor of biomedical engineering at Rensselaer and the co-director of its Center for Modeling, Simulation and Imaging for Medicine (CeMSIM). “What’s known is that glioblastomas are very complex in terms of their makeup, and this can differ from patient to patient.”

Bioprinted brain model tumor
Conceptual figure for the workflow (Photo: Vivian Lee | Northeastern University)

Working together, the interdisciplinary team members developed bioinks out of patient-derived tumor cells and printed them with an integrated network of blood vessels. The 3D model was then left to mature, allowing the researchers to study it over the course of several months.

The vasculature network in the bioprinted model also enabled the team to inject therapeutics, like chemotherapy drug Temozolomide, to test their effectiveness. Treating glioblastoma tumors has typically been a challenge because of the blood-brain barrier, which blocks toxins and most other substances—like drugs—from reaching the brain.

The 3D bioprinted model has enabled the team to replicate this hurdle to achieve a more accurate understanding of a drug’s effectiveness before administering it directly to the patient. As Intes explained: ”That’s the unique part of the bioprinting that has been very powerful. It’s closer to what would happen in vivo.”

The novel methodology extends beyond the bioprinting phase, as the team used a specialized imaging technique to check if the therapeutics were reaching the glioblastoma cells once they were injected into the bioprinted model. The imaging process is designed to take a rapid succession of images of the bioprinted tissue at a cellular level through the plexiglass of the model’s container. The imaging process also uses a minimal amount of light to reduce cell damage. According to Intes, the approach is more effective than florescence microscopy in allowing them to see how the cells are growing or being affected by the drug.

Down the line, this bioprinting and imaging methodology could enable medical professionals to determine the effectiveness of multiple drugs at the same time. However, because of the aggressiveness of the brain tumor in patients, the bioprinting approach is not fast enough to be applied for studying the individual effectiveness of certain drugs on a patient-by-patient bases.

The study was recently published in the journal Science Advances.

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