Modeling and Studying Lung Cancer in 3D

Lung cancer 3D model mimics the real thing

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) One of the huge challenges in lung cancer research is finding a good way to study the disease – to see how it develops and grows and changes. A new model may open the gateway to new discoveries.

Scientists are now able to grow lung cancer cells in a three-dimensional model that looks and behaves very much like human lung cancer does in living tissue.

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This model that’s made from biological matter and looks like miniature lungs was created by researchers at The Methodist Hospital and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

"We found that the 3-D model we devised worked in most respects much better than 2-D models currently being used in lung cancer research," said Min Kim, MD, a thoracic surgeon at Methodist and the study's principal investigator.

“Developing new and better models for preclinical studies of lung cancer is crucial for further improvements of therapies for the many lung cancer patients waiting desperately for therapeutic breakthroughs,” Fred R. Hirsch, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and pathology at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, told dailyRx News.

Lung cancer is diagnosed in about 225,000 Americans every year. Of those, only about 16 percent are alive after 5 years.

Personalized therapy – treatment that targets an individual’s specific genes and cells – is showing some success in treating symptoms and keeping the disease from progressing for longer periods of time.

Still, the work has been agonizingly slow.

"The lack of progress in finding effective treatments for lung cancer may be due, in part, to the lack of an accurate model that mimics the biological processes that occur in patients with lung cancer," said Dhruva Mishra, PhD the paper's first author.

This model that Methodist and MD Anderson developed uses lung cells from a rat to create a framework or matrix. Lung cancer cells are then added to this matrix and given the opportunity to grow much as they would in a human lung.

Researchers tested this model recently and compared it to the 2-D model used today that doesn't use animal cells.

Scientists found that the 3-D model allowed for the cells to form “nodules” just as cancer does in the lungs. This model also provided a way for the cells to behave in other similar ways as is seen in living tissue.

"Our lab is exploring this novel 3-D model for lung cancer to better understand the mechanism behind cancer metastasis," Dr. Kim said.

“For further improvements in personalized lung cancer therapy, we need improved preclinical models, and the current study seems to be a significant contribution to that," Dr. Hirsch said,

“The new model seems also to lend to better study of the biology of lung cancer in general, which is needed, as lung cancer is a very heterogeneous and genetic complicated disease," said Dr. Hirsch who was not involved in the study.

“A better understanding of the biology of this disease gives hopes for faster improvements in therapeutic results.” 

These findings were published in PLOS One. The authors received no special funding to support this project.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 10, 2012
Last Updated:
October 12, 2012