Three-dimensional (3D) printing has come a long way from fabricating tiny dinosaur figures . We’ve written about 3D-printed tissues that speed bone healing, 3D-printed organs, 3D-printed living skin with blood vessels, and much more. Taking “much more” to what sounds like an outer limit, researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) 3D-printed a brain tumor. The outer-limits aspect of the TAU work is the 3D model not only looks like a glioblastoma tumor, it also behaves like one and assists with individualized drug treatment testing.

Glioblastoma tumors are the most aggressive malignant type of primary brain tumor, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). In the U.S., 3.19 per 100,000 persons develop glioblastoma tumors and few live more than 2.5 years after diagnosis. TAU researchers state the average survival time is 14 to 15 months. Glioblastomas also behave unpredictably. The tumor’s fast and unpredictable spreading challenge drug development and individual treatment protocols.

Enter the TAU 3-D printed tumor. As explained in an study published in Science Advances, the researchers extract a sample of a patient’s tumor along with some surrounding brain tissue. Using 3D bioprinting, the TAU researchers can print 100 tiny versions of the tumor. Having multiple samples enable the scientists to test different drug combinations simultaneously to find the compound that is most effective for treating the individual patient’s glioblastoma. This level of individualized testing also helps identify treatments that might be developed to create new cancer treatment drugs.

This TAU work is jaw-dropping technology. 3D-printing using patient-specific tissue material as ink to test treatment efficacy could take personalized medicine to whole new level.