ANN ARBOR--A new 3D structure for growing cell cultures could enable doctors to test medications on model tumors grown from a patient's own cells, according to results from a team of engineers and cancer researchers at the University of Michigan.

"We can potentially use the cultures to do things like drug testing or single cell analysis, which may help us identify the best treatments for a patient's cancer," said Gary Luker, U-M professor of radiology.

An advanced petri dish, known as a 3D scaffold, could enable doctors to get answers about the effectiveness of drugs in days or weeks.

But earlier scaffolds, trying to mimic the structure and composition of the gel-like network that binds a collection of cells into a tissue, also have mixed records.

"Rather than trying to guess at what the tumor cells' microenvironment ought to be, we've made a space where they can create their own cell niche, as they do in the body," said Stacy Jordahl, a recent chemical engineering Ph.D. graduate from U-M and first author on the paper in Advanced Materials.

However, fibronectin tends to coil up if it's not held open.

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