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3D structures facilitate the development of new cancer medicines

The human body is complex. Only five percent of cancer drugs used in clinical trials, that is, tested on patients, result in approved products. RISE develops new testing systems, and one of these involves 3D structures to improve and optimise the process for testing cancer drugs.

Only one in twenty cancer drugs used in clinical trials results in an approved product. This is largely due to the testing systems used prior to clinical trials failing to mimic the human body sufficiently well, with the effects seen in lab tests not being seen in tests on patients, or resulting in the drug proving to be toxic in a way not detected in earlier testing.

– "Many cancer drug tests are conducted on cell cultures grown in petri dishes. This entails growing cells in a single layer, forming a homogeneous cell culture [all the cells are the same]. The cells in the human body are heterogeneous, that is, they differ and have different properties. Cancer is known for its rapid growth, but in many cases the fast-growing cells are not the most difficult to treat and kill. Rather, it's the cells with stem cell properties that are difficult to treat," says Joakim Håkansson, a researcher at RISE.

Three-dimensional bioprinted structures

International research has a strong focus on 3D printing, but this is mainly within basic research. Historically, Sweden has been a driving force in drug development, and for some years RISE has held expertise in 3D printing. RISE works within several areas of the field, namely bioprinting, metal printing and plastic printing. Bioprinting entails printing a structure with biocompatible properties, that is, a structure on which cells can thrive. The cells are either printed within the structure or added to the 3D-printed structure.

– "Here at RISE, we print three-dimensional structures that mimic human tissues. In a 3D structure, the cells can grow in several layers and develop different properties, such as stem cell properties, as well as migrate [spread] and divide," says Joakim.

So far, the project has focused on breast cancer, intestinal cancer and ovarian cancer. We have recently concluded a seven-year, three-stage project funded by VINNOVA within its Challenge-driven Innovation programme. RISE has chaired and coordinated the project, conducting research activities in collaboration with several partners. All in all, thirteen partners have been involved, including Sahlgrenska University Hospital and the University of Gothenburg.

We can almost always help customers with their inquiries

Testing system and method creation on demand

RISE has the capability to adapt its operations to the needs of the pharmaceutical industry and develops methods and testing systems to match industry needs.

– "RISE is a large organisation with an extensive network. We can almost always help customers with their inquiries. In March 2020, RISE started receiving more inquiries due to Covid-19. We reorganised our operations to support not only those wanting to manufacture personal protective equipment, such as facemasks, but also those importing PPE and wanting to get it tested. The situation during the pandemic has clearly demonstrated that RISE excels at reorganising and adapting its operations to industry needs," Joakim ends.

Published: 2020-10-05

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Joakim Håkansson

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