Colorectal tumor 3D in vitro models: advantages of biofabrication for the recapitulation of early stages of tumor development

Julio Manuel Rios De La Rosa, J. Wubetu, Nicola Tirelli, Annalisa Tirella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The majority of cancer-related in vitro studies are conducted on cell monolayers or spheroids. Although this approach has led to key discoveries, it still has a poor outcome in recapitulating the different stages of tumor development. The advent of novel three-dimensional (3D) systems and technological methods for their fabrication is set to improve the field, offering a more physiologically relevant and high throughput in vitro system for the study of tumor development and treatment. Here we describe the fabrication of alginate-based 3D models that recapitulate the early stages of colorectal cancer, tracking two of the main biomarkers for tumor development: CD44 and HIF-1α. We optimized the fabrication process to obtain alginate micro-beads with controlled size and stiffness, mimicking the early stages of colorectal cancer. Human colorectal HCT-116 cancer cells were encapsulated with controlled initial number, and cell viability and protein expression of said 3D in vitro models was compared to that of current gold standards (cell monolayers and spheroids). Our results evidenced that encapsulated HCT-116 demonstrated a high viability, increase in stem-like cell populations (increased expression of CD44) and reduced hypoxic regions (lower HIF-1a expression) compared to spheroid cultures. In conclusion we show that our biofabricated system is a highly reproducible and easily accessible alternative to study cell behavior, allowing to better mimic the early stages of colorectal cancer in comparison to other in vitro models. The use of biofabricated in vitro models will improve the translatability of results, in particular when testing strategies for therapeutic intervention.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBiomedical Physics and Engineering Express
Issue number4
Early online date2 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2018


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