This year, FRAME awarded the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Hull with a grant to support second year undergraduate, Elizabeth Gwerkere, on an ongoing project which aimed to create a 3D cancer model that could be used to help characterise a new strategy for enhancing anti-tumour responses in cancer patients.
The research group at the University is interested in the impact of CO2 levels on tumours, as its supervisor Dr. Barbara Guinn explains: “Since 2006, we started to notice that slight changes in CO2 levels (but not hypoxia) caused changes in antigen levels in tumour cells – these are the proteins recognised by the immune system that can cause tumour destruction when targeted by immunotherapy. We now want to see whether we can demonstrate the same phenomena in a tumour spheroid model.
“The use of spheroids as models of early tumour growth enables us to investigate the impact of a lack of CO2 and nutrients on tumour structure and antigen expression. Spheroids are balls of tumour cells grown in culture that can circumvent the need for animals to form a 3D tumour structure.”
Figure 1 – Model of where the Guinn group expect tumour antigen expression in spheroids. The outer cells of the spheroid have access to normal O2 conditions (normoxia), while in the centre of the spheroid anoxia leads to cell death (shown by an absence of cells). The Guinn group proposes that where hypoxia occurs and tumourigenesis is favoured, these cancer cells have increased levels of antigen expression. Image modified from K. Dadey, BSc Biomedical Sciences, University of Hull, final year dissertation.
Barbara adds: “FRAME’s grant not only provided Elizabeth with valuable work experience, but also helped to progress the project and gain new data for publication. During the summer, Elizabeth was able to optimise antibody staining, and make sure our controls worked consistently, which will be a massive help to future postgraduate research students who will push this project forward.”
“The opportunity to work independently in the laboratory has helped me to build my confidence and broaden my skillset, and I now know that I’d like to pursue a career in scientific research,” Elizabeth explains. “It is great that my work on a new model for cancer research will contribute to the future development of non-animal testing techniques.”
The Group hopes that the growth of cells from patients into spheroids will provide unique insights into tumour development and provide a model in which new treatments can be tested. The team is also interested in the potential of increasing local CO2 levels to stimulate the immune system to kill tumour cells, at the site where a tumour has been excised, for example.
Anna Cadogan, FRAME Chair of Trustees, adds: “FRAME is pleased to have contributed to this interesting project which has the potential to not only reduce animal use in research, but also add to our arsenal of knowledge in the fight against cancer. The future of cancer treatment lies in personalised medicine, and growing tumour spheroids could play a vital role in this.”
FRAME is working towards a world where non-animal methods are accepted as scientific best practice. As part of this mission, the charity may contribute small grants towards projects that will further the development of alternative, human-relevant methods. FRAME is keen to support the education and training of undergraduate and postgraduate scientists to help develop their research skills.