UPM Biomedicals joins the fight against cancer with a wood-based hydrogel, GrowDex®. The hydrogel made of birch and water supports cell growth by mimicking the natural growth environment of human cells. By growing cancer cells researchers are able to study the biology of cancer, model the progression of the disease and search for more effective drugs.
GrowDex is typically used in academic research and research programs of private research institutes, as well as in their joint projects with pharma and biotech industries. UPM Biomedicals is currently involved in 60 different collaborative projects and holds more than 300 patents in the field securing the future.
Helping pharma to speed up anticancer drug development
The relatively quick acceptance of birch nanofibrillar cellulose products such as GrowDex hydrogel comes as no surprise, when you think about it. Cells grow three-dimensionally in the hydrogel, so their behaviour mimics the unique conditions of the human body better than traditional 2D culture on a flat Petri dish. Another important benefit is that GrowDex’s composition does not vary. Researchers can rely on the results of the cell experiments when they know that the variation in cell responses comes from the tested drugs and not from the gel.
Moreover, unlike traditional products, GrowDex does not contain any animal-derived DNA that could hamper DNA sequencing. The significance of this feature is highlighted by product ethics that is increasingly important for a growing number of researchers.
The results obtained with advanced 3D cell assays can better predict the drug performance in reality which isn’t revealed until after years in the clinical tests with patients. The time of drug development is shortened and much dreaded failures in later, more expensive, development stages can be avoided.
The versatile GrowDex gels are suitable both for the study of an individual case of cancer in academia as well as for massive drug studies in pharma, where thousands of different drugs can be tested on human cells automatically using laboratory robotics.
The next level of 3D cell culture presents organ-on-a-chip models or 3D bio-printed tissues, which can be used to model human organs on a miniature scale. UPM Biomedicals has many ongoing projects with academia and industry in this exciting field, too.
GrowDex hydrogels have multiple applications
Besides drug development, GrowDex is explored for personalized medicine, where the target is to select the best treatment for a rare cancer of a specific patient. It is possible to take a sample of the cancer patient’s tumor and culture the cancer cells in GrowDex hydrogel.
The created cancer cell model represents the original tumor. Cancer drugs or drug combinations can then be tested in 3D cell cultures using a patient representative model to find the best drug or drug combination that destroys that particular patient’s cancer cells. Thereafter, the most effective anticancer medication can be applied as the treatment of the patient. Multiple treatments are avoided, and taxpayers’ money is saved.
Individual cancer treatment and research such as described is still in its infancy. It requires a special interest from the attending physician towards research in the field and contacts with researchers. Individualized cancer treatment methods, however, have already saved lives in rare cases of cancer.
GrowDex also works in the storage and transport of tissues and cells, and potentially also modern drugs, vaccines and other biologically active compounds. The gel protects the stored or transported item and keeps it active longer at the body temperature of 37oC. Besides fresh samples, GrowDex has been shown to allow freeze-drying of cells in the gel, which in turn allows storage at room temperatures instead of traditional freezing, where a portion of the cells does not survive the thawing process.