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3D Stamp Helps Streamline Cancer Research

Ishaan Barrett ’22 spent this past summer working at the Glasgow Lab at the Georgetown University Medical Center Department of Oncology. He was conducting research on zebrafish, an animal model with the potential to expand access to personalized cancer treatments.

The lab Barrett worked in uses zebrafish to test how different cancers in humans respond to chemotherapies. Barrett explains, “Zebrafish share about 80% of their health-related genome with humans, allowing us to successfully implant cancer tissue or inject cultured cancer cells into zebrafish embryos to test their responsiveness to different drugs.”

When Barrett reached out to Director of Academic Technology Erika Eason about using the school’s newest 3D printer, the Form 3, to make a prototype stamp for his lab work, Eason was game to try.

The stamp Barrett and Eason printed was designed to create a shallow imprint on agarose, allowing a more precise study of the embryonic fish in oncological research. Barrett got the idea to print in on the Form 3 because the SLA printer uses a UV-activated resin as its base instead of filament and is capable of much better definition, especially on very small items. The printer also uses an adaptive precision algorithm to determine areas where slow, precise printing is required, which also helped to achieve the detail needed on the quarter-size stamp. 

Barrett hoped that the stamp would speed up the zebrafish cancer tissue embedding process (called xenografting) and help deliver the most important information to clinicians more quickly.

It worked.

Usually, the xenografting process takes eight hours with a pool of 100-200 embryos. “With a stamp like this and its ability to create transparent casting molds, we can complete this critical component in our research protocol in about 25% of the original time,” says Barrett.

The versatility and design of the stamp will help the lab expedite imaging, cancer implantation, and data processing techniques to better serve cancer patients at the nearby Lombardi Cancer Center. Barrett is continuing to work at the lab this fall and has submitted a manuscript about his work to a journal for review.

IMAGE A

3D printed stamp on surface of agarose

This picture shows the 3D printed stamp lying on the surface of the first agarose solution used. The lab typically uses 1% low-melt agarose, which creates a gelatinous surface that an inverted microscope can image through.

IMAGE B

microwells on the 3D printed stamp

The small microwells on the stamp are where the zebrafish embryos lie down.

IMAGE C

zebrafish lying on their lateral sides

Zebrafish lie on their lateral sides with their heads facing the deeper trough of the microwell.

IMAGE D

high definition stamp

Another imprint was made using a higher 1.5% concentration of regular high-melt agarose. This stamp has exceptional definition and is the stamp being used in the lab’s new protocol. The unique, high melting point (at around 100°C) means that the mold can be used multiple times while maintaining the transparency needed for imaging.