Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany have created an artificial lung by growing human cancer cells on tissue. A bioreactor is used to make the 3-dimensional tissue model breathe and to pump a nutrient medium through its blood vessels.

The group at Fraunhofer is hoping the new model can be used to more quickly and efficiently test therapies without requiring animal testing. Therapies that are effective in animals fail in human subjects 75% of the time.

The researchers are also hoping to use the model lung to gain a better understanding of how cancer cells metastasize. Metastases can’t be examined in animals, and the 2D models that have been available until now can only provide a limited amount of information on how metastases form. The 3D lung tissue model will allow a more complete view on metastases analysis.

This new technique has the promise to speed up research in many areas of disease. Combined with computer simulation of gene defects, it is another step on the way to personalized medicine.