While two-dimensional modeling of double-stranded DNA molecules has been useful for the purpose of cancer research, the composition of the G-quadruplex, a four-stranded DNA sequence, has proven a different beast. A 3D printing lab at the University of Alabama has successfully produced a physical model of its molecular structure, improving understanding of its makeup and potentially, helping develop a treatment for pancreatic cancer.

The project, a collaborative effort from US and London-based researchers, involved the gathering of X-ray crystallography data of the G-quadruplex molecule and translating it into a 3D printable model.

“Preparing the G-qaudruplex DNA sequence for 3D printing was a challenge and certainly pushed the limits of what we thought was possible in the UA 3D Lab,” said Dr Vincent Scalfani, Science and Engineering Librarian at the University of Alabama. "The 3D printed G-quadruplex is stunning, you can see all of the symmetry, facets and angles within the molecule.”

Research has shown that targeting G-quadruplex sequences with particular compounds can inhibit or stabilize tumors leading to pancreatic cancer. As such, the 3D model is already in use as a tool in pre-clinical studies for pancreatic cancer research, enabling researchers to actually hold and better envision their target, where they previously relied on two-dimensional images.

“Having a live model is invaluable," said Dr Stephan Ohnmacht, from the the School of Pharmacy at University College in London who collaborated on the project. "Visualizing distances of bonds, electrostatic interactions and angles is easy and allows for further optimization of these anti-cancer molecules."