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Researchers develop three-dimensional cancer cell from normal human tissue in culture dish

August 25, 2015

When the researchers examined the patterns of gene expression in the newly cancerous cells, they found that the patterns closely matched the genetic profiles of spontaneously occurring human cancers. But when the cells were grown in a single layer, without the basement membrane, stroma and normal three-dimensional tissue structure, their gene expression profiles were markedly different.

"This tells us that conclusions drawn from studying cells grown in two-dimensional culture need to be correlated with other findings to help ensure clinical relevance," said Khavari.

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.

The three-dimensional culture system also indicated that the stromal cells themselves somehow encourage the invasion of the altered epithelial cells, and that the cells don't need to be dividing wildly in order to be able to invade.

"These things had never been directly tested before in human tissue," said Khavari, who pointed out that the new model still doesn't incorporate many other biological players, such as the immune system and an active metabolism. And yet "now that we can create human tumors from multiple different human tissues, we have a new way to assess what might be going on in spontaneous human tumors."

Source: Stanford University Medical Center