Breadcrumbs

Shalini Guleria in the lab.

A University of Waikato Masters student is aiming to 3D print life-sized breast cancer tumours, with her research targeting faster, more effective treatment for women with the disease.

Shalini Guleria has been through the design phase, and is now about to see if bioprinting will work with cancer cells. At the moment testing on cancer cells is done in 2D, basically a flat layer of cells. But people are 3 dimensional, and Shalini says being able to work on a 3D model will be far more representative, and potentially more accurate.

Shalini has printed up models of the tumours using plastic, to test out the design. They are black, webbed semi-circles that fit roughly in the palm of your hand. For her research she will replace the plastic in the 3D printer with commercially available cancer cells, printing out the mesh, and seeing how the cancer grows, filling out a palm sized tumour.

The 3D printed plastic tumour models.

Bioprinting is predominately used in the area of organ transplants. The idea is to use a person's own cells to grow a new organ, perhaps a  liver or kidney, which will not be rejected. But Shalini is taking a completely different approach to the process, and she believes it can provide a broader picture of cancer. “Once the tumour is printed we will be able to slice it and look into the depths of the cell. You can look at how the tissues are growing, the fibres connecting and the cell organelles - the things that make the cell grow - how they differ to the 2D model.”

Once the tumour is printed and grown, Shalini will use a common breast cancer chemotherapy drug, Cisplatin, on it. She says how the 3D tumours react to the drug may be quite different to the 2D model science has been relying on. “Testing cancer drugs on a more realistic model may mean we can hone how we use them. If we can reduce the treatment time and the dosage, obviously the side-effects will be less, making treatment less traumatic for women.”

Further down the track Shalini says the implications could be wider. “We may be able to take the cells from someone who has cancer, and use them to produce something we can test very specifically for that patient. Then we could make a detailed treatment plan for an individual's body, rather than take a generic approach. A panadol might work for you, and not someone else - everyone's bodies are different.”

Cancer is sometimes used as a metaphor: it is seen as evil, frightening and even invincible. But Shalini works with it in the lab, literally handling it almost every day, and is about to create the kind of tumour that might in other circumstances grow in a woman’s breast, and change her life forever. “I don’t find it scary. We grow them, but because cancer cells mutate very rapidly, and can have viral vectors, there are risks involved. We are in a high containment level lab facility, and every precaution is taken.”

Shalini is more interested in destroying cancer than growing it, but it is one means to an ultimate end. Her thesis should be completed by the end of the year.


Related stories

Professor Ross Lawrenson

Honorary Fellowship for Waikato Health expert

Ross Lawrenson, Professor of Population Health at the University of Waikato, has been awarded Honorary…

Kim Pickering

Major funding boost for circular economy research programme

Engineering Professor Kim Pickering has been awarded $10.9m in Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment…

Research team

New research seeks to transform data ecosystems to benefit indigenous peoples

A team of University of Waikato researchers have successfully secured $6m funding over four years…

WERO project team

Working to end racial oppression supported by $10m MBIE grant

Researchers at the University of Waikato are leading a project that will investigate racial oppression…

Spotlight on Inclusive Theatre for NZSL Week 2020

A University of Waikato academic’s research programme is continually adding to a body of theatre…

Anya Noble

New study into mānuka leaf surface could help maximise high-grade honey production

University of Waikato researchers have found a unique group of microorganisms on the surface of…

Waikato researchers receive $26.9m in MBIE Endeavour funding

The University of Waikato has successfully secured funding for three projects, worth a total of…

$12.5m project to reduce greenhouse gas emissions using ‘digital twin’ technology

University of Waikato School of Engineering Professor Michael Walmsley will lead a seven-year research programme…

Coral bleaching

New study uncovers more causes of coral bleaching

Increased nutrients in the ocean can accelerate coral bleaching caused by high sea temperatures, according…

Consultation with Māori essential for all taonga native plant research

Māori have been using rākau rongoā (Māori herbal medicine) to heal diabetes for a long…

Understanding risks and uncertainty key to protecting our oceans

A University of Waikato researcher is part of a $70 million 10-year Government programme to…

Present Lake Onslow Reservoir on the left.

University of Waikato scientist helps New Zealand move towards 100% renewable energy

The Government will invest $30 million into investigating a proposed hydro storage scheme at Lake…