Three-dimensional (3D) tumor models have been established in various microfluidic systems for drug delivery and resistance studies in vitro. However, one of the main drawbacks of these models is non-uniform distribution of cells, leaving regions with very low cell density within the 3D structures. As a result, molecular diffusion in the cell compartments is faster than that observed in solid tumors. To solve this problem, we developed a new technique for preparation of 3D tumor models in vitro. It was based on a microfluidic device containing three parallel channels separated by narrowly spaced posts. Tumor cells were loaded into the central channel at high density. To test the system, B16.F10 melanoma cells were perfusion-cultured overnight and the resulting 3D structure was characterized in terms of viability, density, and morphology of cells as well as transport properties of small fluorescent molecules. Immediately upon loading of tumor cells, the cell density was comparable to those observed in B16.F10 tumor tissues in vivo; and the viability of tumor cells was maintained through the overnight culture. The tumor model displayed low extracellular space and high resistance to diffusion of small molecules. For membrane-permeant molecules (e.g., Hoechst 33342), the rate of interstitial penetration was extremely slow, compared to membrane-impermeant molecules (e.g., sodium fluorescein). This versatile tumor model could be applied to in vitro studies of transport and cellular uptake of drugs and genes.
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