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Artificial Reality

Synthetic hydrogel creates a realistic environment to grow and drug-test tumour and tissue organoids

09 November 2021

Artificial Reality

A sportsperson who only trains in perfect controlled conditions might struggle to replicate their form in the hectic environment of real competition. A similar mismatch can occur when scientists investigate the biology of human disease in cells in their lab, but observe different results when the myriad other factors interfere with similar cells in the body. Researchers aiming to improve their artificial test environments have developed hydrogels in which pancreatic cells and tumours can grow in the lab. Unlike previous gels, this entirely synthetic substance can be precisely replicated to allow more consistent experimentation. It successfully sustained pancreatic organoids – miniature organ replicas – and tumours derived from mouse (pictured) or human patient cells, as well as supporting common surrounding cells from the immune system (green and orange), meaning it gives a good proxy for the human body and provides an arena to test new cancer drugs in a realistic environment.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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