Using 3D printing technology to study the biology and treatment of neuroblastoma 

Around 100 children are diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare and aggressive childhood cancer, each year in the UK. Many of these children are under the age of five, and the cancer can occur before a child is born. 

This year, as part of our 2019 Grant Round, we are providing funding of over £116,000 to Dr Olga Piskareva and her team at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI). 

In this project, Dr Piskareva aims to use 3D printing technology to engineer a novel experimental model and study the biology, and subsequent treatment of, neuroblastoma.

Modelling neuroblastoma – immune cell interactions in a tissue-engineered 3D platform

Studying the biology of neuroblastoma

Studying the biology of neuroblastoma

To treat children with neuroblastoma more effectively, we first need to understand the biology of the tumour tissues. When developing new therapies, a big challenge is the lack of adequate experimental models that can mimic the complexity of tumour tissues.

Immunotherapy is a promising new treatment which relies on the cells of the body’s own immune system. Immune cells deliver and receive receive signals from other cells to activate a specific immune response.

This treatment modifies the immune cells to recognise and target the cancer cells more effectively, to attack and eventually kill them. It can also reduce the long-term side effects, in comparison to chemotherapy.

How will this project help children with neuroblastoma?

In this project, Dr Piskareva aims to use 3D printing technology to engineer a novel experimental model and study the biology, and subsequent treatment of, neuroblastoma.

Thanks to funding from Neuroblastoma UK and its dedicated supporters...we hope to develop more effective treatments for children with neuroblastoma, with more tolerable side-effects.
— Dr Olga Piskareva

In natural tissue, the cancer cells are surrounded by a 3D microenvironment. This environment determines disease initiation, how it progresses, the patient’s prognosis and their response to treatment.

The 3D printing technology will allow the Dr Piskareva and her team to develop ‘scaffolds’ - a realistic 3D model replica of natural tumour tissues, as seen in patients with neuroblastoma.

The team will then grow neuroblastoma cells, together with immune cells, in these 3D scaffolds and screen the effectiveness of different immunotherapy treatment. 

Advancing current immunotherapies

Dr Olga Piskareva says “It’s an exciting time for my team to study neuroblastoma-immune cells interaction.

This three year project is funded by Neuroblastoma UK. It will support the interdisciplinary collaboration between experts in the fields of neuroblastoma biology, immunology and tissue engineering, from Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Trinity College Dublin and Queen Mary University London

Catherine Murphy and Olga Piskareva

Catherine Murphy and Olga Piskareva

“In this project, we will engineer a novel experimental model to study the biology and treatment of neuroblastoma. We will build upon our recently published model where we used collagen-based scaffolds and neuroblastoma cells to test the response of the cells to chemotherapy drugs.

“Catherine Murphy, a PhD candidate funded by Neuroblastoma UK, will travel to Queen Mary University London and learn how to do 3D tumour bioprinting.

“She will then use RCSI facilities to optimise the model and to study how immune cells recognise cancer cells, attack and eventually kill them. 

“Thanks to funding from Neuroblastoma UK and its dedicated supporters, the knowledge we gain from this model will help us to advance current immunotherapies.  By carrying out this research, we hope to develop more effective treatments for children with neuroblastoma, with more tolerable side-effects.”

Our work relies on your generosity. Your support can make a huge difference to the chances of survival for children with neuroblastoma. Please donate today.