Engineered culture models for studies of tumor-microenvironment interactions

Annu Rev Biomed Eng. 2013:15:29-53. doi: 10.1146/annurev-bioeng-071811-150028. Epub 2013 Apr 29.


Heterogeneous microenvironmental conditions play critical roles in cancer pathogenesis and therapy resistance and arise from changes in tissue dimensionality, cell-extracellular matrix (ECM) interactions, soluble factor signaling, oxygen as well as metabolic gradients, and exogeneous biomechanical cues. Traditional cell culture approaches are restricted in their ability to mimic this complexity with physiological relevance, offering only partial explanation as to why novel therapeutic compounds are frequently efficacious in vitro but disappoint in preclinical and clinical studies. In an effort to overcome these limitations, physical sciences-based strategies have been employed to model specific aspects of the cancer microenvironment. Although these strategies offer promise to reveal the contributions of microenvironmental parameters on tumor initiation, progression, and therapy resistance, they, too, frequently suffer from limitations. This review highlights physicochemical and biological key features of the tumor microenvironment, critically discusses advantages and limitations of current engineering strategies, and provides a perspective on future opportunities for engineered tumor models.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acidosis
  • Animals
  • Biocompatible Materials / chemistry
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Tissue Engineering / methods*


  • Biocompatible Materials