Automated microinjection of cell-polymer suspensions in 3D ECM scaffolds for high-throughput quantitative cancer invasion screens

Biomaterials. 2012 Jan;33(1):181-8. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2011.09.049. Epub 2011 Oct 20.


Cell spheroids (CS) embedded in 3D extracellular matrix (ECM) serve as in vitro mimics for multicellular structures in vivo. Such cultures, started either from spontaneous cell aggregates or single cells dispersed in a gel are time consuming, applicable to restricted cell types only, prone to high variation, and do not allow CS formation with defined spatial distribution required for high-throughput imaging. Here, we describe a method where cell-polymer suspensions are microinjected as droplets into collagen gels and CS formation occurs within hours for a broad range of cell types. We have automated this method to produce CS arrays in fixed patterns with defined x-y-z spatial coordinates in 96 well plates and applied automated imaging and image analysis algorithms. Low intra- and inter-well variation of initial CS size and CS expansion indicates excellent reproducibility. Distinct cell migration patterns, including cohesive strand-like - and individual cell migration can be visualized and manipulated. A proof-of-principle chemical screen is performed identifying compounds that affect cancer cell invasion/migration. Finally, we demonstrate applicability to freshly isolated mouse breast and human sarcoma biopsy material - indicating potential for development of personalized cancer treatment strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement / physiology
  • Extracellular Matrix / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Mice
  • Microinjections
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Polymers / chemistry*
  • Spheroids, Cellular
  • Tissue Scaffolds / chemistry*


  • Polymers