Essentially, the Toronto researchers have figured out how to coax cancerous cells to grow, not in lumpy tumors, but as a two dimensional sheet that can be rolled up like a tube of toilet paper. Much like lab-grown vocal cords, these are produced by letting the cells culture on a collagen matrix and then coiling them around a metal tube. And since they're being made using the patient's own genetic materials, doctors can see exactly how -- and how well -- various treatments will be before pumping them into the patient.
"You can add a drug to the culture, and take it apart and see at which layer the tumors were responding best to," Darren Rodenhizer, lead author of the paper, told Motherboard. "We exposed our model to radiation and found the cells near the outer layer, with the most oxygen, responded very well, whereas the ones in the centre of the device were able to resist that therapy."
Since the cancerous culture can either be examined as a rolled-up mass or as a flat band, researchers can study it in both 2D and 3D. "We can investigate basic cell and tumor biology," said Rodenhizer. "You can culture these tumors and take them apart, and look at the cell properties at each layer and relate them to the environment in that layer: how much oxygen there is, how much glucose, that kind of thing." The team published its findings on Monday in the journal Nature Materials.