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Integr Biol (Camb). 2011 Apr;3(4):439-50. doi: 10.1039/c0ib00063a. Epub 2010 Dec 7.

Transition to invasion in breast cancer: a microfluidic in vitro model enables examination of spatial and temporal effects.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA.


The transition of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) to invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) is a critical step in breast cancer progression. We introduce a simple microfluidic 3D compartmentalized system in which mammary epithelial cells (MCF-DCIS) are co-cultured with human mammary fibroblasts (HMFs), which promotes a transition from DCIS to IDC in vitro. The model enables control of both spatial (distance-dependence) and temporal (transition from larger clusters) aspects within the microenvironment, allowing recapitulation of the in vivo environment in ways not practical with existing experimental models. When HMFs were cultured some distance (0.5-1.5 mm) from the MCF-DCIS cells, we observed an initial morphological change, suggesting soluble factors can begin the transition. However, cell-cell contact with HMFs allowed the MCF-DCIS cells to complete the transition to invasion. Uniquely, the compartmentalized platform enables the analysis of the intrinsic second harmonic generation signal of collagen, providing a label-free quantitative analysis of DCIS-associated collagen remodeling. The arrayed microchannel-based model is compatible with existing infrastructure and, for the first time, provides a cost effective approach to test for inhibitors of pathways involved in DCIS progression to IDC allowing a screening approach to the identification of potential therapeutic targets. Importantly, the model can be easily adapted and generalized to a variety of cell-cell signaling studies.

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