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3D tumours could replace animals in cancer research

3D human tumours that can be grown in the laboratory are the latest and most promising technique set to replace animals in cruel cancer experiments.

Researchers claimed to have cured cancer in millions of animals and yet the success rate for new cancer drugs is shockingly low. The majority of drugs that appear to work in animals go on to fail in clinical trials. This is because animal models are a poor reflection of the reality of complex human cancers.

Recently, scientists have managed to coax tumour cells to grow in 3D spheres in the lab just like they do in the human body, providing a very exciting and realistic model on which to test potential therapies.

Earlier this year, the European Research Council awarded cancer researchers at Queen Mary University of London, a €2.43 million grant for a project, called CANBUILD, which aims to create a 3D model of human ovarian cancer. This will include the recreation of the malignant tumour itself as well as the surrounding cells in the human body that also play a factor in cancer development. The researchers are hoping that their 3D tumour model will eventually be expanded to other types of cancer and be used to test new drugs.1

Elsewhere in London, researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research (IRC) have developed a ‘microcancer’ assay, which involves taking cells directly from cancer patients and growing 3D miniature tumours in the lab. These ‘mini-tumours’ can be used to personalise cancer treatments by testing potential drugs and predicting what will work best for each individual patient. According to Professor Susan Eccles, a lead scientist at the IRC; “we’ve been able to reduce, so far, the number of compounds tested in-vivo (in animals) by 30 per cent”.2

For more information about the use of animals in cancer research and the scientific criticisms please click here.