University of Waikato Master of Science student Shalini Guleria has developed a new way to conduct cancer research and it could be a game-changer.

For her Masters thesis, Shalini used the Science School’s 3D bioprinter to develop three-dimensional tumour models for human breast cancer. Cancer research is usually conducted using 2D models, which is a cheap and easy way of analysing cells, but Shalini says it’s not a representative model.

“Humans aren’t 2D, so it’s important to see how cells interact in a 3D environment,” she says.

After a lot of trial and error, Shalini successfully printed the cancer cells and was able to maintain cell viability. The cells grew and maintained the same behaviour as 2D models, which means they can be used as more realistic models for testing.

“I was able to see how the cells were arranged in a 3D matrix under the microscope and examine their behaviour,” she says. “My work was very preliminary, but it shows the potential this technology holds and how much difference it can make in the area of medical research.”

Coming from an Engineering background, Shalini says conducting molecular biology research was a big learning curve, but she’s not one to shy away from a challenge.

“There was a lot of testing involved, especially because the bioprinter is new to the science department, so not many people know how to operate it. With support from my supervisor, I was able to develop new techniques and now I can do it with my eyes closed.”

Shalini Guleria.

Although her focus was breast cancer cells, Shalini also tested the same method with leukaemia and cervical cancer cells, seeing similar results. “This means the same technology can be used for different kinds of cancer cell lines.”

Shalini has wanted to go into cancer research ever since she watched a close friend go through it at school, and this research is just the beginning. Now that she knows 3D printing viable cancer cells is possible, she wants to extract RNA for a more thorough gene study.

“Working on this project really opened my eyes to the field of cancer research and there is so much to explore. The ultimate goal is to find a cure, but even if I can make a small contribution, it could make a big difference.”

Alongside her research, Shalini also runs Science Box, a non-profit organisation that aims to bring the world of science to primary school kids.

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