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Scientists Develop 3D Model Of Brain Tumor Environment To Find Effective Treatment Method

Glioblastoma is a rare but dangerous type of brain cancer, which is very difficult to cure. Even after surgeons remove the tumors, it resurfaces very fast and chemotherapy and radiation therapy have limited effects. About half of patients suffering from this cancer die within 18 months.

However, now Virginia Tech scientists have developed a novel 3D tissue-engineered model of the glioblastoma tumor microenvironment, which can be used to understand why the tumors resurface and which type of treatment will work well for the complete removal of the tumor.

The model and its development are talked about in detail in a paper published in the Nature Partner Journals Precision Oncology.

"Our goal is ultimately to develop a personalized medicine approach in which we can take a patient's tumor, build a model of that tumor in a dish, test drugs on it, and tell a clinician which therapy will work best to treat it," said Jennifer Munson, associate professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and the paper's corresponding author.

The model is an important step to know new markers and therapies for the cancer. Research using the new model has already singled out a new measure for understanding a patient's tumor, including the capacity of the cancer cells to renew and differentiate themselves, which is an indicator of how the cancer will respond to drug treatments.

Munson, a tissue engineer, began developing the models in 2014. While other engineered models exist, this one accounts for cell types other than tumor cells, along with the space for the tumor to grow and spread, and other aspects of the actual tumor microenvironment.

Munson's models, which are typically about the size of a pencil eraser, more accurately recreate that environment for study, including cells specific to the central nervous system like astrocytes and microglia, and in ratios based on those found in patients.

The model also looks into the movement of fluid between and around cells in tissues, known as interstitial fluid flow, which is known to increase in tumors and speed the cancer's spread. Fluid flow in the model also makes space for easy testing of drug therapies.

The microenvironment is important in understanding why glioblastoma is so difficult to treat. Though a tumor can be removed, tumor cells enter the surrounding tissue where they become more harmful or resistant to therapies, thus making way for the to return.

Munson commented, "We wanted to mimic that environment as closely as possible because that is what you would be later treating with drugs or doing any sort of follow up treatment."

Munson and her team have used the models to test the impact of different treatments, studying how cancer cells invade tissue, how they proliferate, their ability to renew themselves, and how many cells die. They found results varied widely, which highlights the importance of a personalized medicine approach to glioblastoma and the value of being able to recreate an individual patient's tumor microenvironment.

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