Japanese scientists succeed in growing cancer cells in 3D

January 2020 Medical Research Eline Feenstra
3d rendering futuristic blue circuit board background illustration

‘Cancer-on-a-chip’: that’s the novel invention by a group of Japanese scientists that could well turn out to be a gamechanger in cancer research.

Data from research on lab-grown cells or on mice cannot be extrapolated towards the human body as a whole, but by growing cancer cells on a chip scientists think they may have found a way to circumvent this problem.

The chip is the size of a small coin and contains a small slot in the middle that’s just 1 millimeter across. Cancer cells can be placed inside this slot and grow in three dimensions. Hitherto, cancer cells that were used in research were always placed on a flat surface and could only be examined in a twodimensional plane. The cancer cells on the chip are also able to grow their own blood supply and are therefore able to survive for a longer period of time.

With the cancer cells on the chip, scientists can examine the effect of nutrients or medication much more faithfully. This provide more accurate data regarding the effectiveness of medicines. The new technology enables scientists to provide the cancer cells with nutrients as well as medication, just as would be the case with the human body.

In one experiment, the researchers administered a low dose of anti-cancer medication, and it was noticed that the medication became more effective when the flow of nutrients and medication was stopped. However, high doses of medication proved to be more efficient with the flow of nutrition intact. According to the researchers this proves that it is important to keep an eye on the patients’ blood supply during the screening process.


1. Nashimoto Y, Okada R, Hanada S et al. Vascularized cancer on a chip: The effect of perfusion on growth and drug delivery of tumor spheroid. Biomaterials, 2020; 229: 119547