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ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering


Improved in vitro models are needed to better understand cancer progression and bridge the gap between in vitro proof-of-concept studies, in vivo validation, and clinical application. Multicellular tumor spheroids (MCTS) are a popular method for three-dimensional (3D) cell culture, because they capture some aspects of the dimensionality, cell–cell contact, and cell–matrix interactions seen in vivo. Many approaches exist to create MCTS from cell lines, and they have been used to study tumor cell invasion, growth, and how cells respond to drugs in physiologically relevant 3D microenvironments. However, there are several discrepancies in the observations made of cell behaviors when comparing between MCTS formation methods. To resolve these inconsistencies, we created and compared the behavior of breast, prostate, and ovarian cancer cells across three MCTS formation methods: in polyNIPAAM gels, in microwells, or in suspension culture. These methods formed MCTS via proliferation from single cells or passive aggregation, and therefore showed differential reliance on genes important for cell–cell or cell–matrix interactions. We also found that the MCTS formation method dictated drug sensitivity, where MCTS formed over longer periods of time via clonal growth were more resistant to treatment. Toward clinical application, we compared an ovarian cancer cell line MCTS formed in polyNIPAAM with cells from patient-derived malignant ascites. The method that relied on clonal growth (PolyNIPAAM gel) was more time and cost intensive, but yielded MCTS that were uniformly spherical, and exhibited the most reproducible drug responses. Conversely, MCTS methods that relied on aggregation were faster, but yielded MCTS with grape-like, lobular structures. These three MCTS formation methods differed in culture time requirements and complexity, and had distinct drug response profiles, suggesting the choice of MCTS formation method should be carefully chosen based on the application required.









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