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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Science Leaps Ahead – Now, Some Full 3D Tumors Can Be Grown in a Dish, Leading to Direct Obse

Just in time for Thanksgiving, a new scientific first arrives in the form of a breakthrough in cancer research tools. The gist ? Scientists have now figured out a way to transform ordinary human tissue into a tumor growing in a dish. Result ? A strong possibility that potential cancer-treatment agents can be quickly tested and watched in the dish, with results observable in days instead of the months normally needed for animal studies.

For people with cancer now, days matter. That’s surely one reason why the research is published in Nature Medicine, one of the world’s leading scientific journals.

Key excerpts are set out below from this summary article in ScienceDaily. The Nature Medicine abstract is here.

"Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have successfully transformed normal human tissue into three-dimensional cancers in a tissue culture dish for the first time. Watching how the cells behave as they divide and invade surrounding tissue will help physicians better understand how human cancers act in the body. The new technique also provides a way to quickly and cheaply test anti-cancer drugs without requiring laboratory animals."


Studies of this type, which used to take months in animal models, can now occur on a time scale of days," said Paul Khavari, MD, PhD, the Carl J. Herzog Professor and chair of dermatology at Stanford. The researchers focused on epithelial cells, which line the surfaces and cavities of the body. Cancers of epithelial cells make up approximately 90 percent of all human cancers.


The researchers took advantage of their new "tumor-in-a-dish" model to test 20 new experimental anti-cancer drugs. Many of these drugs cannot be easily tested in animals because they are difficult to administer and may be toxic in their current form. But Khavari and Ridky were able to quickly home in on three promising candidates that stopped the altered epithelial cells from invading through the membrane. While the drugs will still have to be optimized for testing in animals, this type of pre-screening allows researchers to narrow down the possibilities.

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