New Hydrogel Gives Researchers a Better Way to Study Brain Cancer

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braincancerEngineers have created a brand new, three dimensional hydrogel that mimics the conditions of the human brain better than any previous gel. The clinical applications of the new hydrogel are varied, but at the moment it’s giving researchers a
whole new way to study glioblastoma multiforme – an aggressive and notoriously deadly form of brain cancer.

Traditionally, researchers have been forced to study cancer cells growing in Petri dishes. Brain cancers are especially difficult to study this way, because the brain tissues on which these cancer cells thrive are hard to maintain. The only alternative – the use of animal models –doesn’t always give scientists the hands on approach they need to visually monitor the changes in cancerous cells.

And while the new hydrogel isn’t perfect, its versatility gives researchers the much-needed ability to change its parameters to create a personalized environment. Being able to alter the molecular signals, porosity or stiffness of the gel means scientists will be able to study the initial tumor growth, as well as the way it responds to different therapies.

And because the addition or subtraction of naturally occurring brain carbohydrates (like hyaluronic acid) changes the malignancy of brain cancer cells within the gel, the researchers can work with exactly the type of tumor they need to study. Being able to selectively choose malignancy will give scientists results that closely match what is happening inside of human brains.

And while a biomaterial may never allow scientists to grow a complete brain tumor, the hydrogel advancement gives researchers, pathologists, and biologists the ability to study tumor development in a new and completely accessible way.

(Photo: Brendan Harley)

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