Cancer research commonly uses animals to understand disease progression. Animal models, however, often fail to provide the detailed insight into human conditions that we need to develop treatments for those affected.
But there are scientists working on alternatives. A recent focus has been on developing human based models that mimic human tissues and can replicate real life physiological environments. Creating these ‘microphysiological systems’ requires well-characterised tissue-mimicking materials which also faithfully replicate the complexity of the tiny blood vessels that develop within and around tumours.
To complicate matters, soft tissues are very complex structures, and their properties can change depending on multiple factors. For example, how they are compressed or stretched when we move can affect their acoustic properties, and therefore how they respond to ultrasound. And ultrasounds are vital for accurate diagnosis and monitoring of cancers.
Methods like organs-on-chips (also referred to as ‘microphysiological systems’), are advancing our ability to replicate the function of the desired organ or tissue, but they’re still relatively simple. For example they still lack the complexity of the microvasculature, which is fundamental in tumour growth and in other diseases. The successful development of both healthy and diseased tissue-mimicking materials is critical for the future of animal free medical research.