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Medical 3D representation of a dividing cancer cell

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Small models are intended to imitate the structure of real tumors – scientists have now developed a method for this purpose. The procedure is intended to help researchers find individual treatments for people with rare or difficult-to-treat cancers. The results of the study were published in the journal Nature Communications.

The so-called organoids – miniatures of tumors – can be grown in the laboratory with cell lines or the patient's own cells in order to better understand human biology and diseases. The models can also be used to test drugs, for example, to try out how the tumor reacts to treatment.

"Tumor organoids have become fundamental tools for studying tumor biology and revealing the sensitivity of individual patients to drugs," said Alice Soragni, last author of the study. "However, we need even better ways to identify whether resistance could emerge in a small cell population that we may not detect with conventional screening methods. This is really important, especially since the prediction of organoid-based drugs is gradually being used clinically."

So far, however, there have been major hurdles in the application, according to the explanations: For the current models, for example, it is still difficult to detect the diversity of tumors – a common cause of therapy resistance.

With the organoids they have developed, the scientists at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center want to overcome these problems: They have now used a bioprinting technique to create three-dimensional mini-tumors without changing the tissue histology, for example. The researchers combined the biologically printed cell with an imaging system. With the help of artificial intelligence, the scientists were finally able to analyze the organoids. "The measurements were carried out in such a way that the organoids were not damaged or destroyed, which allowed a non-invasive analysis of their growth and response to drugs," said Michael Teitell, co-author of the study.

Now the researchers want to use the new approach to investigate new therapeutic pathways and resistance mechanisms and ultimately develop personalized treatment strategies.