3D tumour models: novel in vitro approaches to cancer studies

  • Agata Nyga
  • Umber Cheema
  • Marilena LoizidouEmail author


3D in vitro models have been used in cancer research as a compromise between 2-dimensional cultures of isolated cancer cells and the manufactured complexity of xenografts of human cancers in immunocompromised animal hosts. 3D models can be tailored to be biomimetic and accurately recapitulate the native in vivo scenario in which they are found. These 3D in vitro models provide an important alternative to both complex in vivo whole organism approaches, and 2D culture with its spatial limitations. Approaches to create more biomimetic 3D models of cancer include, but are not limited to, (i) providing the appropriate matrix components in a 3D configuration found in vivo, (ii) co-culturing cancer cells, endothelial cells and other associated cells in a spatially relevant manner, (iii) monitoring and controlling hypoxia- to mimic levels found in native tumours and (iv) monitoring the release of angiogenic factors by cancer cells in response to hypoxia. This article aims to overview current 3D in vitro models of cancer and review strategies employed by researchers to tackle these aspects with special reference to recent promising developments, as well as the current limitations of 2D cultures and in vivo models. 3D in vitro models provide an important alternative to both complex in vivo whole organism approaches, and 2D culture with its spatial limitations. Here we review current strategies in the field of modelling cancer, with special reference to advances in complex 3D in vitro models.


Biomimetic Tumour stroma 3D cancer models In vitro tumour models 

List of abbreviations






Basic fibroblast growth factor


Basement membrane extract


Bovine serum albumin




Endothelial cell


Extracellular matrix


Epidermal growth factor




Human epithelial ovarian cancer


Hyaluronan / hyaluronic acid




Laminin-rich extracellular matrix


Mesenchymal stem cells


Multicellular tumour spheroid




Non-obese diabetic


Phosphate buffered saline


Plastic compression




Polyethylene glycol






Poly(vinyl alcohol)


Arginine-glycine-aspartic acid


Severely compromised immunodeficient


Vascular endothelial growth factor



Umber Cheema is a BBSRC David Phillips Fellow and is funded through this route.


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Copyright information

© The International CCN Society 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Agata Nyga
    • 1
    • 2
  • Umber Cheema
    • 2
    • 3
  • Marilena Loizidou
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Centre for Nanotechnology, Biomaterials and Tissue EngineeringUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.UCL Division of Surgery & Interventional ScienceUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Tissue Repair and Engineering Centre, Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal ScienceUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  4. 4.UCL Division of Surgery and Interventional ScienceRoyal Free Hospital, 9th floorLondonUK

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