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"Pancreas in a dish" helps scientists study how pancreatic cancer forms

9 August 2012

Scientists in Toronto have created a tiny, living 3-D organ model of pancreatic ducts to help them conduct research on pancreatic cancer.

With a grant from the Canadian Cancer Society, Dr Senthil Muthuswamy and his team from Toronto's Princess Margaret Hospital will use the 3-D biological model to investigate how pancreatic cancer begins to develop deep within the organ's duct system.

Using thousands of the tiny 3-D models in petri dishes in his lab, Dr Muthuswamy and his team at will use genetic manipulation to recreate the events that lead to cancer formation in the pancreas. The researchers will add genes, hormones, and other agents to see what causes the cells to mutate into cancerous lesions.

"In most biological cancer research, we grow and study cells in a flat layer, like a lawn, in a petri dish," says Dr Muthuswamy. "But cells don't exist in our bodies like that. They exist as 3-D tubes and vessels, so if you study them in a flat layer, you will not be able to ask all the right questions. These models are much more realistic, much closer to what actually happens in our bodies."

Dr Muthuswamy and his team will use the 3-D models to observe the different stages of disease. He hopes this will lead to identification of new biological markers to detect and diagnose pancreatic cancer early.  

Dr Mary Argent-Katwala, Director of Research at the Canadian Cancer Society says, " We are eager to be funding Dr Muthuswamy's work, which will provide valuable information on understanding how pancreatic cancer develops so it can be diagnosed earlier and treated more effectively. Moreover, this exciting new model will help researchers around the globe in their work on pancreatic cancer."

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