When it comes to cancer research, detection, and treatment, the medical community always needs support. Small, innovative solutions can make a big difference. That’s precisely how 3D printing is assisting scientists and researchers. It helps them pursue their cause more effectively.
Creating 3D-Printed Cell Traps
Scientists at Georgia Tech are using 3D printing to create cell traps which filter blood cells and trap cancer cells for accurate diagnosis. The use of 3D technology alleviates the problem of finding and pinpointing cancer cells which may be hiding among a constellation of some billion blood cells in a patient's blood sample.
In order to accurately diagnose the cancer cell, it's necessary to separate bad cells from good. This is done by filtering smaller red blood cells and leaving the tumor cells. Early detection can lead to earlier and more effective cancer treatment.
3D-printed cell traps are lined with antigens which capture white blood cells in a sample. The traps then able researchers to expand the surface area and subsequently capture white blood cells in blood samples.
The tiny traps pose fluid channels which change direction, zigging and zagging, so that white blood cells more likely meet a wall of the channel. These white blood cells are about the size of the cancer cells.
Fabricating a Unique Structure
3D printing once again creates a solution by custom fabricating a structure, be it ever so small, finite, and precise, that goes beyond the application of 3D printing as a solution for other industrial uses. It has come in handy for biomedical research, in this case, and helping scientists diagnose cancer sooner and better.
A. Fatih Sarioglu, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) explains:
"Isolating circulating tumor cells from whole blood samples has been a challenge because we are looking for a handful of cancer cells mixed with billions of normal red and white blood cells. With this device, we can process a clinically-relevant volume of blood by capturing nearly all of the white blood cells and then filtering out the red blood cells by size. That leaves us with undamaged tumor cells that can be sequenced to determine the specific cancer type and the unique characteristics of each patient's tumor."
Detecting cancer cells is a challenging task for scientists. Cancer cells change over time, and malignant cells become difficult to identify with the required certainty. If they can be detected early and isolated with a structural device, it becomes difficult for them to be removed and examined using traditional channels previously designed to filter cancer cells.
Previously, single channel devices have been used, and weren't as effective given they don't cause the fluid to change direction and provide a means of capturing the targeted cancer cells. When the channels can be used with multiple dimensions, such as with these new 3D printed cell traps, it allows for the space through which the fluid travels, to be optimized for better use.
For the Georgia Tech researchers, other challenges ensued though: single channel traps used etching; but with 3D printing, channels are produced by layering and filled with wax, allowing more channels to be built on top of them. The wax was difficult to remove after fabrication but this was later overcome with a centrifuge which removed it and created a most efficient trap.
It's expected to be used to trap any type of cancer cell, including:
- Breast cancer
Combining 3D Printing with Cancer Research
What's so significant about these new 3D traps is the use of 3D printing, not necessarily as a bio printed application, but the ability of a printer to fabricate a part that provides a unique solution to a unique problem: isolating cancer cells for early detection and an understanding of their metastasis.
"We expect that this will really be an enabling tool for clinicians," Sarioglu said. "In our lab, the mindset is always toward translating our research by making the device simple enough to be used in hospitals, clinics and other facilities that will help diagnose disease in patients."