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PLoS One. 2015 Jul 24;10(7):e0133895. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0133895. eCollection 2015.

Improved Methods to Generate Spheroid Cultures from Tumor Cells, Tumor Cells & Fibroblasts or Tumor-Fragments: Microenvironment, Microvesicles and MiRNA.

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University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine, Dept Radiation Oncology, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America; Fudan University, Eye & ENT Hospital, Dept Radiation Oncology, Shanghai, China.
Oxford University, Gray Institute for Radiation Oncology, Oxford, United Kingdom.
University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine, Dept Radiation Oncology, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America.
University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine, Penn Genomics Analysis Core, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America.


Diagnostic and prognostic indicators are key components to achieve the goal of personalized cancer therapy. Two distinct approaches to this goal include predicting response by genetic analysis and direct testing of possible therapies using cultures derived from biopsy specimens. Optimally, the latter method requires a rapid assessment, but growing xenograft tumors or developing patient-derived cell lines can involve a great deal of time and expense. Furthermore, tumor cells have much different responses when grown in 2D versus 3D tissue environments. Using a modification of existing methods, we show that it is possible to make tumor-fragment (TF) spheroids in only 2-3 days. TF spheroids appear to closely model characteristics of the original tumor and may be used to assess critical therapy-modulating features of the microenvironment such as hypoxia. A similar method allows the reproducible development of spheroids from mixed tumor cells and fibroblasts (mixed-cell spheroids). Prior literature reports have shown highly variable development and properties of mixed-cell spheroids and this has hampered the detailed study of how individual tumor-cell components interact. In this study, we illustrate this approach and describe similarities and differences using two tumor models (U87 glioma and SQ20B squamous-cell carcinoma) with supporting data from additional cell lines. We show that U87 and SQ20B spheroids predict a key microenvironmental factor in tumors (hypoxia) and that SQ20B cells and spheroids generate similar numbers of microvesicles. We also present pilot data for miRNA expression under conditions of cells, tumors, and TF spheroids.

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