American scientists tackle bone cancer using 3D-printer and soy beans

October 2020 Health of Tomorrow Willem van Altena
Close-up of soybeans picked from soybean field, on farmer's hand in Millerstown, Pennsylvania, USA.

Soy beans are considered to be a healthy source of protein and consuming soy-based products is generally seen as beneficial to our bodies in a number of ways. But now, soy could even help treat cancer. Researchers from Washington State University (USA) are hoping to use the health benefits of the popular legume to improve post-operative treatment of osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer.

Reporting in the journal, Acta Biomaterialia, graduate student Naboneeta Sarkar and Professor Susmita Bose in WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering showed that the slow release of soy-based chemical compounds from a 3D-printed bone-like scaffold resulted in a reduction in bone cancer cells while building up healthy cells and reducing harmful inflammation.

Professor Bose, who has conducted a similar research with releasing curcumin to bone cancer using 3D-printed replacement bone material, states that there is not much research in the area of natural medicinal compounds in biomedical devices. “Using these natural medicines, one can make a difference to human health with very minimal or no side effects, although a critical issue remains composition control.”

Osteosarcoma is a rare type of bone cancer that occurs most often in children and young adults. Despite medical advances, patients with osteosarcoma and metastatic bone cancer experience a high rate of recurrence, and osteosarcoma is second leading cause of cancer death in children.

Treatment options are limited and usually involve surgically removing the tumor-infected bone, combined with high-dose chemotherapy before and after surgery. However, this is a very taxing procedure for patients, who experience a significant amount of inflammantion during the lengthy bone reconstruction process, impairing healing. Furthermore, the high dosage of chemotherapy presents serious side effects.

Therefore, researchers are looking into developing less aggressive treatment options, especially for the recovery period after surgery. Bose’s team has been studying bone tissue engineering as an alternative strategy to repair the bone. This technological solution was then modified so that the artificial bone could also act as a means of introducing medicine or other compounds into the body on the precise location where it can effectively treat the cancer.

The researchers used 3D printing to make patient-specific, bone-like scaffolds that included three soy compounds, and then slowly released the compounds into tissue samples containing bone cancer cells as well as healthy bone cells. Soybeans contain isoflavones, plant-derived estrogens that have been shown to impede cancer cell growth for many types of cancer without being toxic to normal cells. Isoflavones have also been shown to improve bone health and possibly prevent osteoporosis.

One of the soybean compounds caused a 90% reduction in bone cancer cell viability in their samples after 11 days. Two other soy compounds, meanwhile, significantly improved the growth of healthy bone cells. Furthermore, using the soy compounds in animal models also reduced inflammation, which could benefit bone health as well as overall recovery.

“These results advance our understanding in providing therapeutic approaches in using synthetic bone grafts as a drug delivery vehicle,” Bose said. The research will now extend into studying the specific pathways of the genetic expression of natural compounds and the benefits of integrating them in biomedical technology. More detailed long-term studies are needed, using animal research as well as other malignant cells.


Naboneeta Sarkar, Susmita Bose. Controlled release of soy isoflavones from multifunctional 3D printed bone tissue engineering scaffolds. Acta Biomaterialia, 2020; 114: 407 DOI: 10.1016/j.actbio.2020.07.006