This Week in LIS - 9 May 2014

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Headline of the Week: Henrietta Lacks' HeLa Cells Meet 3D Printing in Cancer Therapy Research

Today is a great day for research at Luther College. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff are enjoying sharing and learning from student research presented at the annual Student Research Symposium. We were reminded at the Opening Celebration that research is about exploring connections to try to find answers to important questions like how and why.

Beyond Luther College, an interesting cancer research article surfaced this past week. Given the strength of Biology program at Luther College and the number of students that find their life’s work in healthcare it seemed worthy of reflection. Further, it inspired recollection of a string of connections leading to additional questions and possibilities.

In late 2012 and early 2013, a campus wide study was done to assess needs for digital media. The first fruits of that study resulted in the initial phase of a new Digital Media Center in the lower level of Preus Library. One of the topics of interest that emerged during the assessment was 3D printing. Although 3D printing was not included in this initial investment the Departments of Visual and Performing Arts, Computer Science, and Anthropology expressed interest in this digital technology to support teaching and learning in modeling and design, prop creation, technology exploration and replication. Perhaps in the future?

In February, 2013 a 3D printing demo was held in Preus Library. Brit Indrelie, Luther College senior at that time, used his personal 3D printer in conjunction with a 3D scanner borrowed from the Anthropology Department to scan a small pot from the Anthropology Collection, used the scan and computer software to create a digital model and then the model was sent to his 3D printer which "printed” a replica of the pot. It was a compelling demonstration, a great cross department collaboration and there was a wonderful turnout of students and faculty from several disciplines signaling interest in understanding more about the technology.

During the Summer of 2012, the Paideia summer reading assignment was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This book captures the story of Henrietta Lacks whose cervical cancer cells had been sampled when she was treated and cell strains derived from her cells have became widely used in research because of the interesting and particular characteristics of her cells. Cells derived from Henrietta Lacks are referred to as HeLa cells. Many ethical questions arise from the Henrietta Lacks case and Paideia explored them during that fall.

The research article, “Three-dimensional printing of Hela cells for cervical tumor model in vitro talked about using 3D printing to assemble 3D masses of HeLa cells that can be used for potentially more effective cancer therapy research. Generally, in vitro research is done in 2D and animal trials are required to see how a therapy might work on a 3D tumor. Both cell masses and therapies can behave differently in 3D as compare to 2D. The thought experiment is that working in vitro with 3D may speed up research leading to more effective therapies sooner.

The application described leveraged 3D printing in yet another discipline - in this case - biology. It worked with the controversial HeLa cells - the very cells discussed in the Paideia program.

A few years ago, when I worked for IBM, I was associated with an IBM team collaborating with the Mayo Clinic. A focus of that work was collaboration on individualized medicine topics.  The idea with individualized medicine is to select therapies or customize therapies to individuals based on their specific characteristics vs. larger populations. There were a number of projects. Several used informatics and computation, statistics, text analytics, and other “big data” technologies. Currently a data science/data analytics proposal is working its way through the system with leadership from the Computer Science Department and support from a number of other departments that have interest in manipulating “big data.” The proposal pulls together curriculum that would provide a foundation and tools for students to leverage “big data” in research.

It is inspiring to see some of the elements brought to bear in this leading edge cancer research being discussed, explored and otherwise considered for our students. What are the possibilities or bringing these threads of interest together? Would student and faculty research opportunities be enhanced or new opportunities enabled with 3D biological “printing?” Can you imagine a time when a scan of an individual’s tumor might lead to a 3D print out of that tumor (perhaps using the cells from that individual) on which various therapies can be tested in vitro to maximize individual patient effectiveness.

It is fantastic that so many Luther College students get to participate in research providing them opportunities to ask big questions and to imagine new possibilities. It is a rewarding to be part of a group that helps support and enable student and faculty work.

Suggested Reading/Viewing/Listening:

Three-dimensional printing of Hela cells for cervical tumor model in vitro by Yu Zhao, Rui Yao, Liliang Ouyang, Hongxu Ding, Ting Zhang, Kaitai Zhang, Shujun Cheng and Wei Sun

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot


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This Week in LIS is published most Fridays by Paul Mattson, Executive Director of LIS at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

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