Engineering strategies to capture the biological and biophysical tumor microenvironment in vitro

Adv Drug Deliv Rev. 2021 Sep;176:113852. doi: 10.1016/j.addr.2021.113852. Epub 2021 Jun 28.


Despite decades of research and advancements in diagnostic and treatment modalities, cancer remains a major global healthcare challenge. This is due in part to a lack of model systems that allow investigating the mechanisms underlying tumor development, progression, and therapy resistance under relevant conditions in vitro. Tumor cell interactions with their surroundings influence all stages of tumorigenesis and are shaped by both biological and biophysical cues including cell-cell and cell-extracellular matrix (ECM) interactions, tissue architecture and mechanics, and mass transport. Engineered tumor models provide promising platforms to elucidate the individual and combined contributions of these cues to tumor malignancy under controlled and physiologically relevant conditions. This review will summarize current knowledge of the biological and biophysical microenvironmental cues that influence tumor development and progression, present examples of in vitro model systems that are presently used to study these interactions and highlight advancements in tumor engineering approaches to further improve these technologies.

Keywords: Cancer heterogeneity; Cancer metabolic transport; Extracellular matrix; Tumor engineering; Tumor microenvironment; Tumor on a chip.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Progression
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Tissue Engineering / methods*
  • Tumor Microenvironment / physiology*