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Drug development is a long and expensive undertaking that involves an intensive screening of a target drug, followed by clinical trials.

These in-vitro (outside of a living organism) cell growth tests involve the development of two-dimensional cells on plastic surfaces that are not truly representative of actual body conditions, thereby leading to high failure rates in drug discovery.

In 2011 alone, out of approximately 900 anti-cancer therapies in clinical trials or under Federal Drug Administration review, only 12 were approved, resulting in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars spent on pre-clinical and clinical trials.

Three-dimensional cell culture technologies are a much better representation of in-vivo (inside living organism) cell environments. And they are gaining traction in the development of new drugs.

The global market for the development of 3D cell cultures is expected to grow to $1.5 million by 2024. Driving factors for investment in 3D culture technology are the need for an alternative to animal testing, and the better resemblance to the growth of a human organ found in in-vivo modeling.

With this in mind, two HU professors are working with students to develop a low-cost method to help support three-dimensional cell growth and drug screening.

Dr. Leena Pattarkine and Dr. Shailaja Agrawal were recent recipients of a $16,500 HU Presidential Research Grant, which they were awarded to partner with students to design and fabricate a tool that will aid in the growth of cell cultures via a 3D platform.

Launched this spring, the “Biopolymer Sponge Microfluidics for Continuous 3D Cell Culture and Drug Screening Project” aims to transform the field of drug screening and make it much more cost effective, Dr. Agrawal said.

One graduate and two undergraduate students are working on the project to help satisfy degree requirements, and the project provides both invaluable hands on practice in a cutting edge field, said Dr. Pattarkine.

“It also positions HU as an institute that is home to cutting-edge and innovative research,” Dr. Pattarkine added. “The proposed project involves a novel method of utilizing cheap polymers to develop a scaffold that is totally innovative and has never been attempted by other researchers. Therefore, this project has potential to secure new patents for HU.”