Bone Tissue Engineering Lab

Headed by Eric Farrell and Andrea Lolli


Bone metastasis “in a dish”: engineering vascularised bone in vitro to model metastatic breast cancer; BoneMeND


With this new partnership, Erasmus MC, University of Twente and the company React4life will join forces to fulfill the ambitious aim of recreating the process of bone metastasis in vitro. BoneMeND will generate a complex platform to model bone formation and vascularisation, which will be applied to investigate the mechanisms of bone metastasis. 

Breast cancer is a highly debilitating disease that disrupts the lives of patients and their families. Virtually all breast cancer deaths are caused by the development of metastases, that affect most frequently the bone. There is currently no cure. In the Netherlands, every year approximately 3,100 patients die of breast cancer and 65,000 years of productive life are lost to the disease, with an annual economic burden of €1.27 billion. Sadly, these numbers are increasing. The development of new and effective treatments is highly desired by patients and healthcare providers, but severely hindered by the scarcity of clinically-relevant models to study bone metastasis in a controlled environment. 

This project will realise a first-of-its-kind technology that recapitulates the complex process of bone formation “in a dish”. Miniature bone organoids will be fully grown in vitro and connected to a vascular network. Eventually the system will be perfused with cancer cells that will migrate to the bone, recreating the process of metastatic dissemination. This will allow researchers to investigate in a unique setting the mechanisms that support bone invasion by metastatic cells, without the need for laboratory animals.

BoneMeND will provide an in vitro platform that mimics bone formation and invasion by cancer cells with a degree of physiological relevance that transcends available systems. This will enable fundamental understanding of bone metastasis, and provide a new tool for drug development and screening. 

Health~Holland project page

Image: microphotograph of a human multinucleated osteoclast in vitro (author: Amaia Garmendia-Urdalleta)