Thinking Outside of the Box to Fight Cancer


This week’s Science First highlights exciting work from Arizona State University aimed at developing innovative cancer models. ASU recently recognized select researchers for using “out of the box” approaches to study cancer.

Included among them was Dr. Mehdi Nikkhah (pictured above at left), assistant professor in ASU’s School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering. Notably, Dr. Nikkhah is also the research mentor of Danh Truong (pictured above at right), a 2016-17 recipient of the NAVS/IFER Graduate Fellowship for Alternatives to the Use of Animals in Science.

Animal models, which are very common in cancer research, are often generated by either genetically engineering animals or implanting them with tumor cells. This significantly impacts the health and well-being of those animals.

In addition to ethical issues, there are scientific limitations to using animal models. Physiological differences between animals and humans make it difficult to extrapolate data across species. This is why treatments that show promise in animals are not guaranteed to work in humans. Using animal models is also time consuming and expensive.

Nikkhah’s lab is, therefore, utilizing a different approach. They are generating three-dimensional, cell-based models that aim to mimic the way breast cancer cells behave in the human body. The lab is particularly interested in better understanding how the tumor microenvironment—the cells, blood vessels and molecules surrounding the tumor—influence tumor cell growth, invasion and response to treatment. They have constructed sophisticated in vitro models that incorporate many of the cell types and protein components that would be found in the human body.

Cell-based models are well-suited for these studies, more so than animal models, because the use of human cells brings human relevance to the research. These tools also allow researchers to better control the variables of their experiments. Results generated from the 3-D models are also highly reproducible and reliable.

NAVS is proud to support this important research, which is advancing our understanding of cancer progression and discovering potential effective treatments without the use of animals.

READ MORE: Learn more about 3-D cancer models that NAVS is funding.

Source: “ASU researchers from range of nontraditional disciplines work to tackle disease,” ASU Website, March 16, 2017

This entry was posted in News and tagged on March 21, 2017.
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