Japanese art inspires personalized treatment model for glioma

Written by Lauren Pulling

Researchers have developed ‘artificial mini brains’ – organoids – that could be used to develop personalized brain cancer treatments. The organoids, developed via on a technique inspired by the ancient Japanese art of flower arranging, consist of human neural stem cells printed onto a microneedle plate that grow into miniature 3D environments suitable for modeling tumor growth and treatment.
These organoids provide an authentic model – the first of its kind – for modeling how brain tumors grow and respond to different treatments. The project was conceived by Christian Naus (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada) with Japanese bioprinting company Cyfuse (Tokyo, Japan) and was presented at SfN’s Neuroscience 2016 (San Diego, CA, USA, 12–16 November 2016).

Naus explained: “This puts the tumor within the context of a brain, instead of a flat plastic dish. When cells grow in three dimensions instead of two, adhering only to each other and not to plastic, an entirely different set of genes are activated.”

The technique was inspired by the Japanese art of ikebana, a form of flower arranging in which flowers are affixed to brass needles that protrude from a heavy base plate. The organoids are created by bioprinting small spheres of human neural stem cells onto a plate covered in microneedles. As the cells divide and differentiate, they merge and form organoids that are approximately 2–3 mm in diameter. Though lacking blood vessels, the models are small enough for oxygen to permeate the tissue.

Researchers highlighted the use of organoids in modeling glioblastoma. At present, standard treatment involves surgery followed by radiation and/or chemotherapy, but tumors often return and survival from time of diagnosis is on average only 1 year. Organoids offer a new model from which to develop novel personalized treatment approaches against the cancer.

Naus and colleagues implanted cancerous glioma cells inside the organoids, finding that the gliomas spread into surrounding healthy cells. Following this observation, Naus predicts that the organoids could be used to model drug interactions to develop precision medicine approaches for patients.

Speaking to Neurology Central, Naus said: “This platform provides a unique tool to manipulate the glioma microenvironment and assess the effectiveness of various therapeutics.

“It also opens up avenues for ‘precision medicine’, where a patient’s resected glioma can be bioprinted along with neural oganoids from the same patient’s iPSCs to characterize the 3D interactions over time, monitoring glioma growth and invasion, and determining the efficacy of a battery of therapeutics (e.g., chemo and/or radiation), to more precisely inform decisions for patient-specific treatments.”

Sources: Naus CC, Harada K, Sin W, Song D, Kita N. Modelling human glioma using 3D bioprinting. Presented at: Neuroscience 2016, San Diego, CA, USA, 12–16 November 2016; http://news.ubc.ca/2016/12/05/a-traditional-japanese-art-inspires-a-futuristic-innovation-brain-organoids/