Getting personal: Carcinotech is bioprinting patient-specific tumor models for individualized drug testing

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Ishani Malhotra is CEO and founder of Carcinotech, the Edinburgh-based biotech that is bioprinting patient-specific testing models with cells from biopsy samples. Find out how she and her ingenious researchers benefited from expert support from CELLINK, a BICO company.

"Breast Cancer Awareness Month is also a chance to highlight the amazing progress being made to develop more treatment options for breast cancer."

Why is Breast Cancer Awareness Month important to you?

The annual breast cancer awareness campaign helps women and men (who also suffer from breast cancer) understand the importance of self-checking and scheduling lab tests to catch the disease early. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is also a chance to highlight the amazing progress researchers are making to develop more treatment options for breast cancer.

How is Carcinotech reinventing breast cancer research?

Carcinotech manufactures 3D printed tumor models using patient-derived cancer stem cells, primary cells and established cell lines. We developed our testing platform to enable rapid, ethical, sustainable, accurate and personalized drug testing. Because patients have different genetic makeups, a drug that works for one person might not work for others. Some chemotherapy drugs, temozolomide for example, will only work for 50% of patients. It is important, therefore, to conduct individualized drug testing to ensure that the other 50% who have a certain genetic mutation are identified and prescribed other drugs in the pipeline that will help them fight the cancer.

How does your cancer drug testing model work?

Carcinotech receives biopsy samples from diagnosed patients. With breast cancer, for instance, we isolate the triple-negative breast cancer cells, bioprint a 3D model of the tumor that replicates the in vivo environment. Then we test multiple cancer drugs from our 240-compound library on the patient-specific tumor model, allowing us to see which drugs would offer the patient the best treatment outcome. When we send clinicians this report, it helps them make better treatment decisions, knowing that the compound has already been tested in the lab on their patient’s cells.

Histology image of the bioprinted cancer construct.

How long does it take to get from patient sample to drug recommendation?

It takes about 3 weeks from getting the tissue sample in, processing, bioprinting and testing the drugs. The most challenging step is the week it takes to process the biopsy sample and extract enough cells for bioprinting. The bioprinting, on the other hand, doesn’t take long; each plate can be printed in 5 minutes. After a 14-day incubation period, when the bioconstruct is at its healthiest, is the best time to test the drug compounds on the developing tissue model. We’ve experimented with going beyond 30 or 60 days and have confirmed 14 days is ideal because of what we call necrosis, or the tendency that cells growing close together start dying off.

How has your partnership with CELLINK influenced your work?

We established a collaboration with CELLINK last year that gave us access to the BIO X™, which offered the best bioprinting technology. As a young startup, we greatly benefited from CELLINK’s exceptional support team of scientists and technicians, who always answer technical questions about the bioprinters and bioinks within 24 hours. CELLINK has also been very prompt about sending us replacement parts when needed. Especially during COVID, it was extremely helpful that they were willing to jump on video calls to help us install parts correctly. Having access to their amazing products and exceptional service has been helpful, and we want to continue the relationship with CELLINK.

"Bioink quality control has been very thorough and reliable."

Are you using any other CELLINK products?

We have successfully used CELLINK’s LAMININK 411 bioink to print brain tumors, but we are still testing out which bioink will work best to print the triple-negative breast cancer models. We have been ordering CELLINK bioinks for more than a year now, and the quality control has been very thorough and reliable. When we reported a concern with one bioink batch, for example, CELLINK resolved the problem quickly and sent us a replacement batch right away.

What makes you hopeful about the future of oncology and breast cancer research?

Carcinotech’s testing model also makes it possible to screen thousands of potential cancer drug compounds in a high-throughput manner, with disease models that more accurately replicate human tissue and minimize the use of animals for preclinical testing. Breast cancer research is expected to develop more effective drug combinations and immunotherapies in the next 10 years. However, institutions, companies and researchers will need to collaborate, as we did with CELLINK, to get us to a point where breast cancer becomes completely curable.

Further reading

See a video on how the system works in practice

Get the link to the full video below, or watch the abridged version on our Youtube channel.

BIO X6 - Demo

BIO X6 - Demo