9/2/19 Prof. Sophie Lelievre

Sophie Lelievre, a professor of pharmacology, is leading a team to create tumor models more similar to the ones in the body.

For the first time ever, Purdue researchers have created models of tumors that are very close in size to those found in the body.

Drugs used to treat malignant tumors often fail to reach cancerous cells despite successfully reaching the tumor site in the body, but cancer scientists at Purdue could change this with these tumor models.

Tumor models produced by cell cultures are much smaller than tumors found in the body, according to Sophie Lelievre, a professor of pharmacology. Due to this, a drug that is effective in the lab may not be as effective on a patient.

A team of scientists at Purdue, led by Lelievre, has created tumor models that are closer in size to ones found in the body and mimic pathological characteristics.

These real-scale “in vitro” models are 0.5 centimeters to 1 centimeter wide and 1.5 centimeters tall. In contrast, typical tumor models produced by cell cultures are 0.04 centimeters to 0.08 centimeters big.

“These models really look like a real tumor and remain viable for weeks,” Lelievre said. “We can create a microenvironment in vitro.”

Tumor models produced by cell cultures in mice cannot be studied in a controlled microenvironment, which is critical to drug development. They are also expensive to produce.

“The production cost of our in vitro models is also much much lower,” Lelievre said. “It also only takes 10 days to grow, whereas in vivo models can take a couple of months.”

The next steps for these tumor models are testing and commercializing. There were 18.1 million new cancer cases and 9.6 million deaths due to cancer globally in 2018, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer. These tumor models will be critical in testing drug delivery and developing medicines that can target cancer cells better, saving countless lives, according to Lelievre.

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