Self-assembly of vascularized tissue to support tumor explants in vitro
Testing the efficacy of cancer drugs requires functional assays that recapitulate the cell populations, anatomy and biological responses of human tumors. Although current animal models and in vitro cell culture platforms are informative, they have significant shortcomings. Mouse models can reproduce tissue-level and systemic responses to tumor growth and treatments observed in humans, but xenografts from patients often do not grow, or require months to develop. On the other hand, current in vitro assays are useful for studying the molecular bases of tumorigenesis or drug activity, but often lack the appropriate in vivo cell heterogeneity and natural microenvironment. Therefore, there is a need for novel tools that allow rapid analysis of patient-derived tumors in a robust and representative microenvironment. We have developed methodology for maintaining harvested tumor tissue in vitro by placing them in a support bed with self-assembled stroma and vasculature. The harvested biopsy or tumor explant integrates with the stromal bed and vasculature, providing the correct extracellular matrix (collagen I, IV, fibronectin), associated stromal cells, and a lumenized vessel network. Our system provides a new tool that will allow ex vivo drug-screening and can be adapted for the guidance of patient-specific therapeutic strategies.