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Bio Protoc. 2018 Nov 20;8(22). pii: e3083. doi: 10.21769/BioProtoc.3083.

A Functionally Robust Phenotypic Screen that Identifies Drug Resistance-associated Genes Using 3D Cell Culture.

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Biological Systems and Engineering Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA, USA.


Drug resistance is a major obstacle in cancer treatment: A case in point is the failure of cancer patients to respond to tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) of EGFR, a receptor that is highly expressed in many cancers. Identification of the targets and delineation of mechanisms of drug resistance remain major challenges. Traditional pharmacological assays of drug resistance measure the response of tumor cells using cell proliferation or cell death as readouts. These assays performed using traditional plastic tissue culture plates (2D) do not translate to in vivo realities. Here, we describe a genetic screen based on phenotypic changes that can be completed over a period of 1-1½ months using functional endpoints in physiologically relevant 3D culture models. This phenotype-based assay could lead to the discovery of previously unknown therapeutic targets and could explain the source of the resistance and relapse. As a proof of principle, we performed our 3D culture assay with a small cDNA library in that yielded five unknown intermediates in EGFR and PI3K signaling pathways. Here, we describe the screening method and the characterization of one of the five molecules, but this approach could be easily expanded for a high-throughput screening to identify or evaluate many more unknown intermediates in oncogenic signaling pathways.


3D Culture; Drug resistance; EGFR-TKI; Extracellular matrix; HMT3522; Phenotypic screen; cDNA overexpression library

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