Gelatine methacrylamide-based hydrogels: An alternative three-dimensional cancer cell culture system

Elke Kaemmerer, Ferry P. W. Melchels, Boris M. Holzapfel, Tobias Meckel, Dietmar W. Hutmacher, Daniela Loessner

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Modern cancer research requires physiological, three-dimensional (3-D) cell culture platforms, wherein the physical and chemical characteristics of the extracellular matrix (ECM) can be modified. In this study, gelatine methacrylamide (GelMA)-based hydrogels were characterized and established as in vitro and in vivo spheroid-based models for ovarian cancer, reflecting the advanced disease stage of patients, with accumulation of multicellular spheroids in the tumour fluid (ascites). Polymer concentration (2.5-7% w/v) strongly influenced hydrogel stiffness (0.5 +/- 0.2 kPa to 9.0 +/- 1.8 kPa) but had little effect on solute diffusion. The diffusion coefficient of 70 kDa fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC)-labelled dextran in 7% GelMA-based hydrogels was only 2.3 times slower compared to water. Hydrogels of medium concentration (5% w/v GelMA) and stiffness (3.4 kPa) allowed spheroid formation and high proliferation and metabolic rates. The inhibition of matrix metalloproteinases and consequently ECM degradability reduced spheroid formation and proliferation rates. The incorporation of the ECM components laminin-411 and hyaluronic acid further stimulated spheroid growth within GelMA-based hydrogels. The feasibility of pre-cultured GelMA-based hydrogels as spheroid carriers within an ovarian cancer animal model was proven and led to tumour development and metastasis. These tumours were sensitive to treatment with the anti-cancer drug paclitaxel, but not the integrin antagonist ATN-161. While paclitaxel and its combination with ATN-161 resulted in a treatment response of 33-37.8%, ATN-161 alone had no effect on tumour growth and peritoneal spread. The semi-synthetic biomaterial GelMA combines relevant natural cues with tunable properties, providing an alternative, bioengineered 3-D cancer cell culture in in vitro and in vivo model systems. (C) 2014 Acta Materialia Inc. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2551-2562
Number of pages12
JournalActa Biomaterialia
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014


  • Animal model
  • Cell encapsulation
  • ECM
  • Hydrogel
  • Mechanical properties
  • 3D


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