MNTL Hilights report web (Apr. 2016) - Page 9

NEW SYNTHETIC TUMOR ENVIRONMENTS MAKE CANCER RESEARCH MORE REALISTIC Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Kris Kilian and Illinois colleagues have developed a new technique to create a cell habitat of squishy fluids, called hydrogels, which can realistically and quickly recreate microenvironments found across biology. To illustrate the potential of their technique, the Illinois team mixed breast cancer cells and cells called macrophages that signal cancer cells to spread and grow into a tumor. They were able to observe how differently cells act in the three-dimensional, gel-like environment, which is much more like body tissues than current options—a flat, hard plastic plate or expensive mouse avatars that are created by injecting human tumor cells into mice. “This is really the first time that it’s been demonstrated that you can use a rapid methodology like this to spatially define cancer cells and macrophages,” said Kilian, noting the importance of the architecture to answering fundamental biological questions. What sets the team’s model apart from mouse avatars and hard plastic plates is that it can replicate much more accurately the sizes and shapes of the microenvironment within the patient’s problem area. The materials that pharmaceutical companies use to test drugs’ effects on cells don’t allow for three-dimensional vascularization, a network of capillaries that carry drugs and other materials throughout the body. The team’s model does, creating networks that go from straight, to snakelike, to any shape. MNTL HIGHLIGHTS REPORT 9