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A versatile 3D tissue matrix scaffold system for tumor modeling and drug screening

Girdhari Rijal and Weimin Li


Most of the anticancer drug candidates entering preclinical trials fail to be approved for clinical applications. The following are among the main causes of these failures: studying molecular mechanisms of cancer development, identifying therapeutic targets, and testing drug candidates using inappropriate tissue culture models, which do not recapitulate the native microenvironment where the cancer cells originate. It has become clear that three-dimensional (3D) cell cultures are more biologically and clinically relevant than 2D models. The spatial and mechanical conditions of 3D cultures enable the cancer cells to display heterogeneous growth, assume diverse phenotypes, express distinct gene and protein products, and attain metastatic potential and resistance to drugs that are reminiscent of tumors in humans. However, the current 3D culture systems using synthetic polymers or selected components of the extracellular matrix (ECM) are defective (particularly the biophysical and biochemical properties of the native ECM) and remain distant to optimally support the signaling cue–oriented cell survival and growth. We introduce a reconstitutable tissue matrix scaffold (TMS) system fabricated using native tissue ECM, with tissue-like architecture and resilience. The structural and compositional properties of TMS favor robust cell survival, proliferation, migration, and invasion in culture and vascularized tumor formation in animals. The combination of porous and hydrogel TMS allows compartmental culture of cancerous and stromal cells, which are distinguishable by biomarkers. The response of the cancer cells grown on TMS to drugs well reflects animal and clinical observations. TMS enables more biologically relevant studies and is suitable for preclinical drug screening.

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