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Print/Screen -- "The Discovery Files"

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An engineering breakthrough at Drexel University will allow cancer researchers to create live tumors with a 3-D printer to test the efficacy of treatments and study a tumor's behavior outside the body.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Print. Screen.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files. New advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Let's see--feed a cold--starve a fever--print a tumor. One of the more unusual applications of 3-D printing, thanks to the work of Drexel University engineer Wei Sun and collaborators. They have produced not just an image, but a way to create a full-blown living model of an in vitro tumor--a first for 3-D printing.

Traditionally, researchers use two-dimensional cell cultures for study and drug-screening. But 2-D tumors in petri dishes don't react the same way as 3-D tumors in the body--leading to shortcomings in cancer research and development of anti-cancer drugs. The process Sun's team developed results in a living model of a tumor that will give researchers a better look at how actual tumors behave, and a more accurate measure of how they respond to treatment.

The 3-D printing process works by extruding material (in this case a mixture of cervical cancer cells and hydrogel) through a nozzle, to create layers--eventually enough to form an entire object. With the sun lab's unique process, and by carefully controlling temperature and other factors, 90 percent of the cancer cells survived the trip. Eight days later, they had grown into spheroid-shaped tumors--and no paper jams.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Learn more at

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