A novel stromal fibroblast-modulated 3d tumor spheroid model for studying tumor-stroma interaction and drug discovery

Hongwei Shao, Mecker Moller, Dazhi Wang, Albert Ting, Marcia Boulina, Zhao Jun Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Tumor-stroma interactions play an important role in cancer progression. Three-dimensional (3D) tumor spheroid models are the most widely used in vitro model in the study of cancer stem/initiating cells, preclinical cancer research, and drug screening. The 3D spheroid models are superior to conventional tumor cell culture and reproduce some important characters of real solid tumors. However, conventional 3D tumor spheroids are made up exclusively of tumor cells. They lack the participation of tumor stromal cells and have insufficient extracellular matrix (ECM) deposition, thus only partially mimicking the in vivo conditions of tumor tissues. We established a new multicellular 3D spheroid model composed of tumor cells and stromal fibroblasts that better mimics the in vivo heterogeneous tumor microenvironment and its native desmoplasia. The formation of spheroids is strictly regulated by the tumor stromal fibroblasts and is determined by the activity of certain crucial intracellular signaling pathways (e.g., Notch signaling) in stromal fibroblasts. In this article, we present the techniques for coculture of tumor cells-stromal fibroblasts, time-lapse imaging to visualize cell-cell interactions, and confocal microscopy to display the 3D architectural features of the spheroids. We also show two examples of the practical application of this 3D spheroid model. This novel multicellular 3D spheroid model offers a useful platform for studying tumor-stroma interaction, elucidating how stromal fibroblasts regulate cancer stem/initiating cells, which determine tumor progression and aggressiveness, and exploring involvement of stromal reaction in cancer drug sensitivity and resistance. This platform can also be a pertinent in vitro model for drug discovery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere60660
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number156
StatePublished - Feb 2020


  • 3D tumor spheroid model
  • Cancer Research
  • Cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAF)
  • Issue 156
  • Melanoma initiating cells (MIC)
  • Multicellular 3D spheroids
  • Tumor microenvironment (TME)
  • Tumor spheroids
  • Tumor stem cells
  • Tumor stromal fibroblasts
  • Tumor-stromal interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


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