A Novel 3D In Vitro Platform for Pre-Clinical Investigations in Drug Testing, Gene Therapy, and Immuno-oncology

Sci Rep. 2019 May 9;9(1):7154. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-43613-9.


Tumors develop within complex cell-to-cell interactions, with accessory cells playing a relevant role starting in the early phases of cancer progression. This event occurs in a three-dimensional (3D) environment, which to date, has been difficult to reproduce in vitro due to its complexity. While bi-dimensional cultures have generated substantial data, there is a progressive awareness that 3D culture strategies may rapidly increase the understanding of tumor development and be used in anti-cancer compound screening and for predicting response to new drugs utilizing personalized approaches. However, simple systems capable of rapidly rebuilding cancer tissues ex-vivo in 3D are needed and could be used for a variety of applications. Therefore, we developed a flat, handheld and versatile 3D cell culture bioreactor that can be loaded with tumor and/or normal cells in combination which can be monitored using a variety of read-outs. This biocompatible device sustained 3D growth of tumor cell lines representative of various cancers, such as pancreatic and breast adenocarcinoma, sarcoma, and glioblastoma. The cells repopulated the thin matrix which was completely separated from the outer space by two gas-permeable membranes and was monitored in real-time using both microscopy and luminometry, even after transportation. The device was tested in 3D cytotoxicity assays to investigate the anti-cancer potential of chemotherapy, biologic agents, and cell-based therapy in co-cultures. The addition of luciferase in target cancer cells is suitable for comparative studies that may also involve parallel in vivo investigations. Notably, the system was challenged using primary tumor cells harvested from lung cancer patients as an innovative predictive functional assay for cancer responsiveness to checkpoint inhibitors, such as nivolumab. This bioreactor has several novel features in the 3D-culture field of research, representing a valid tool useful for cancer investigations, drug screenings, and other toxicology approaches.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cell Culture Techniques / instrumentation
  • Cell Culture Techniques / methods*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical / methods*
  • Genetic Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Lung Neoplasms / immunology
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Nivolumab / pharmacology
  • Nivolumab / therapeutic use


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Nivolumab