Heralding a new paradigm in 3D tumor modeling

Biomaterials. 2016 Nov;108:197-213. doi: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2016.08.052. Epub 2016 Sep 2.


Numerous studies to date have contributed to a paradigm shift in modeling cancer, moving from the traditional two-dimensional culture system to three-dimensional (3D) culture systems for cancer cell culture. This led to the inception of tumor engineering, which has undergone rapid advances over the years. In line with the recognition that tumors are not merely masses of proliferating cancer cells but rather, highly complex tissues consisting of a dynamic extracellular matrix together with stromal, immune and endothelial cells, significant efforts have been made to better recapitulate the tumor microenvironment in 3D. These approaches include the development of engineered matrices and co-cultures to replicate the complexity of tumor-stroma interactions in vitro. However, the tumor engineering and cancer biology fields have traditionally relied heavily on the use of cancer cell lines as a cell source in tumor modeling. While cancer cell lines have contributed to a wealth of knowledge in cancer biology, the use of this cell source is increasingly perceived as a major contributing factor to the dismal failure rate of oncology drugs in drug development. Backing this notion is the increasing evidence that tumors possess intrinsic heterogeneity, which predominantly homogeneous cancer cell lines poorly reflect. Tumor heterogeneity contributes to therapeutic resistance in patients. To overcome this limitation, cancer cell lines are beginning to be replaced by primary tumor cell sources, in the form of patient-derived xenografts and organoids cultures. Moving forward, we propose that further advances in tumor engineering would require that tumor heterogeneity (tumor variants) be taken into consideration together with tumor complexity (tumor-stroma interactions). In this review, we provide a comprehensive overview of what has been achieved in recapitulating tumor complexity, and discuss the importance of incorporating tumor heterogeneity into 3D in vitro tumor models. This work carves out the roadmap for 3D tumor engineering and highlights some of the challenges that need to be addressed as we move forward into the next chapter.

Keywords: 3D tumor models; Cancer; Organoids; Patient-derived xenografts; Tumor heterogeneity; Tumor microenvironment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Batch Cell Culture Techniques / instrumentation
  • Batch Cell Culture Techniques / methods
  • Batch Cell Culture Techniques / trends*
  • Equipment Design
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / pathology*
  • Printing, Three-Dimensional / instrumentation
  • Printing, Three-Dimensional / trends*
  • Spheroids, Cellular / pathology*
  • Tissue Engineering / instrumentation
  • Tissue Engineering / methods
  • Tissue Engineering / trends*
  • Tissue Scaffolds / trends*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured