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J Biotechnol. 2010 Jul 1;148(1):3-15. doi: 10.1016/j.jbiotec.2010.01.012. Epub 2010 Jan 25.

Multicellular tumor spheroids: an underestimated tool is catching up again.

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Institute of Physiology and Pathophysiology, University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Duesbergweg 6, 55128 Mainz, Germany.


The present article highlights the rationale, potential and flexibility of tumor spheroid mono- and cocultures for implementation into state of the art anti-cancer therapy test platforms. Unlike classical monolayer-based models, spheroids strikingly mirror the 3D cellular context and therapeutically relevant pathophysiological gradients of in vivo tumors. Some concepts for standardization and automation of spheroid culturing, monitoring and analysis are discussed, and the challenges to define the most convenient analytical endpoints for therapy testing are outlined. The potential of spheroids to contribute to either the elimination of poor drug candidates at the pre-animal and pre-clinical state or the identification of promising drugs that would fail in classical 2D cell assays is emphasised. Microtechnologies, in the form of micropatterning and microfluidics, are also discussed and offer the exciting prospect of standardized spheroid mass production to tackle high-throughput screening applications within the context of traditional laboratory settings. The extension towards more sophisticated spheroid coculture models which more closely reflect heterologous tumor tissues composed of tumor and various stromal cell types is also covered. Examples are given with particular emphasis on tumor-immune cell cocultures and their usefulness for testing novel immunotherapeutic treatment strategies. Finally, tumor cell heterogeneity and the extraordinary possibilities of putative cancer stem/tumor-initiating cell populations that can be maintained and expanded in sphere-forming assays are introduced. The relevance of the cancer stem cell hypothesis for cancer cure is highlighted, with the respective sphere cultures being envisioned as an integral tool for next generation drug development offensives.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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