Breast cancer cell invasion is a highly orchestrated process driven by a myriad of complex microenvironmental stimuli. These complexities make it difficult to isolate and assess the effects of specific parameters including matrix stiffness and tumor architecture on disease progression. In this regard, morphologically accurate tumor models are becoming instrumental to perform fundamental studies on cancer cell invasion within well-controlled conditions. In this study, the use of photocrosslinkable hydrogels and a novel, two-step photolithography technique was explored to microengineer a 3D breast tumor model. The microfabrication process presented herein enabled precise localization of the cells and creation of high stiffness constructs adjacent to a low stiffness matrix. To validate the model, breast cancer cell lines (MDA-MB-231, MCF7) and normal mammary epithelial cells (MCF10A) were embedded separately within the tumor model and cellular proliferation, migration and cytoskeletal organization were assessed. Proliferation of metastatic MDA-MB-231 cells was significantly higher than tumorigenic MCF7 and normal mammary MCF10A cells. MDA-MB-231 exhibited highly migratory behavior and invaded the surrounding matrix, whereas MCF7 or MCF10A cells formed clusters that were confined within the micropatterned circular features. F-actin staining revealed unique 3D protrusions in MDA-MB-231 cells as they migrated throughout the surrounding matrix. Alternatively, there were abundance of 3D clusters formed by MCF7 and MCF10A cells. The results revealed that gelatin methacrylate (GelMA) hydrogel, integrated with the two-step photolithography technique, has great promise in creating 3D tumor models with well-defined features and tunable stiffness for detailed studies on cancer cell invasion and drug responsiveness.
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