Discovery Assists in Cancer Research

December 13, 2010

In a first-ever scientific breakthrough, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have succeeded in transforming normal human cells into three-dimensional cancer cells in a tissue culture dish.

This new procedure will allow scientists to observe how cancer cells behave as they multiply and invade surrounding tissue. Not only will this give doctors a unique glimpse into the ways that cancer may progress in the body, it will also allow for faster and easier testing of anti-cancer drugs in human tissue rather than in laboratory animals.

"Studies of this type, which used to take months in animal models, can now occur on a time scale of days," said Paul Khavari, M.D., co-author of the research study, which was published in the journal Nature Medicine. "Now that we can create human tumors from multiple different human tissues, we have a new way to assess what might be going on in spontaneous human tumors."

The researchers used normal cells from the cervix, skin, throat and esophagus. These normal cells were first exposed to viral material known to induce tumors, then combined with healthy human tissue in a culture dish. After about six days, the cells that were exposed to the viral material began to act like invasive cancer cells, breaking through cell layers and invading other tissue.

"This reflects what we see happening in spontaneous human tumors," said Khavari. "Cells go from a pre-malignant state to invasive cancers, often over the course of years. Only in this intact, human-tissue model, it occurs much more quickly."

Sources: Todd W Ridky et al. "Invasive three-dimensional organotypic neoplasia from multiple normal human epithelia." Nature Medicine. Published online 21 November 2010; and Stanford University School of Medicine News Release

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 12 Dec 2010

Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015