Patterning cellular compartments within TRACER cultures using sacrificial gelatin printing

Biofabrication. 2016 Sep 15;8(3):035018. doi: 10.1088/1758-5090/8/3/035018.


In the past decade, it has been well recognised that the tumour microenvironment contains microenvironmental components such as hypoxia that significantly influence tumour cell behaviours such, invasiveness and therapy resistance, all of which provide new targets for studying cancer biology and developing anticancer therapeutics. In response, a large number of two-dimensional and three-dimensional (3D) in vitro tumour models have been developed to recapitulate different aspects of the tumour microenvironment and enable the study of related biological questions. While more complex models enable new biological insight, such models often involve time-consuming and complex fabrication or analysis processes, which limit their adoption by the broader cancer biology community. To address this, we recently reported the development of a new platform that enables easy assembly and analysis of 3D tumour cultures, the tissue roll for analysis of cellular environment response (TRACER). The TRACER platform enables recapitulation of many spatial aspects of the tumour microenvironment to ask a variety of questions, however its original design contains only one cell type. In contrast tumours in vivo often contain a neoplastic and stromal compartment. To expand the types of questions the TRACER system is useful for asking, here we present a strategy to pattern distinct cell type domains into TRACER layers using a custom-built gelatin-dispensing pen. The pen allows deposition of a temporary gelatin barrier into the TRACER scaffold to define domain boundaries between cell populations. The gelatin can be melted away after cell seeding to allow interaction of cell populations from adjacent domains. Our device offers a simple strategy to generate complex multi-cell type tumour cultures for analysis of fundamental biology and drug development applications.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bioprinting / instrumentation
  • Bioprinting / methods*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Gelatin / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Models, Biological
  • NIH 3T3 Cells
  • Polymers / chemistry
  • Tissue Scaffolds / chemistry*
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • Polymers
  • Gelatin