A Tiny, Breathing Lung Made of Cancer Cells That Helps Test Chemo Drugs

One of the great tragedies of cancer medicine is when drugs work phenomenally in animal testing, but fail to deliver for human patients. As close as animal testing can get, it's no substitute for the real thing—which makes this tiny, breathing artificial lung, grown from human lung cancer cells, so promising.

Devised by a team at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology, this technique grows tissue from human lung cancer cells that's then used to create a lung-shaped structure. The mini-lung is then attached to a bioreactor that circulates nutrient fluid through the tissue's blood vessels and pumps air in and out of the o.5 cubic centimeter lung. With precise control over how fast and deeply the mini-lung breathes, the result is a tiny organ that mimics human lung function more closely than anything before it.

Since the tiny artificial lung's tissue is grown from human lung cancer cells, its reaction is identical to human cells given chemotherapy drugs. That's helpful to let researchers know the effectiveness of certain drugs—as the study's principal author, Prof. Dr. Heike Walles explains, "treatments that generate resistance in clinics do the same in our model."

In the future, this technique could even be used to create a model lung for every lung cancer patient; doctors could take cancer cell samples during a biopsy, grow them into a model micro-lung, and test different combinations of chemotherapies to find the most effective therapy to use on the patient.

As always, more study will be needed before that dream becomes a reality. But don't let that lung's tiny size fool you—this idea could be huge for cancer patients. [Fraunhofer Institute]

Image: Fraunhofer Institute