Microfluidic co-culture of pancreatic tumor spheroids with stellate cells as a novel 3D model for investigation of stroma-mediated cell motility and drug resistance

Ji Hyun Lee, Seul Ki Kim, Iftikhar Ali Khawar, Su Yeong Jeong, Seok Chung, Hyo Jeong Kuh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Pancreatic stellate cells (PSCs), a major component of the tumor microenvironment in pancreatic cancer, play roles in cancer progression as well as drug resistance. Culturing various cells in microfluidic (microchannel) devices has proven to be a useful in studying cellular interactions and drug sensitivity. Here we present a microchannel plate-based co-culture model that integrates tumor spheroids with PSCs in a three-dimensional (3D) collagen matrix to mimic the tumor microenvironment in vivo by recapitulating epithelial-mesenchymal transition and chemoresistance. Methods: A 7-channel microchannel plate was prepared using poly-dimethylsiloxane (PDMS) via soft lithography. PANC-1, a human pancreatic cancer cell line, and PSCs, each within a designated channel of the microchannel plate, were cultured embedded in type I collagen. Expression of EMT-related markers and factors was analyzed using immunofluorescent staining or Proteome analysis. Changes in viability following exposure to gemcitabine and paclitaxel were measured using Live/Dead assay. Results: PANC-1 cells formed 3D tumor spheroids within 5 days and the number of spheroids increased when co-cultured with PSCs. Culture conditions were optimized for PANC-1 cells and PSCs, and their appropriate interaction was confirmed by reciprocal activation shown as increased cell motility. PSCs under co-culture showed an increased expression of α-SMA. Expression of EMT-related markers, such as vimentin and TGF-β, was higher in co-cultured PANC-1 spheroids compared to that in mono-cultured spheroids; as was the expression of many other EMT-related factors including TIMP1 and IL-8. Following gemcitabine exposure, no significant changes in survival were observed. When paclitaxel was combined with gemcitabine, a growth inhibitory advantage was prominent in tumor spheroids, which was accompanied by significant cytotoxicity in PSCs. Conclusions: We demonstrated that cancer cells grown as tumor spheroids in a 3D collagen matrix and PSCs co-cultured in sub-millimeter proximity participate in mutual interactions that induce EMT and drug resistance in a microchannel plate. Microfluidic co-culture of pancreatic tumor spheroids with PSCs may serve as a useful model for studying EMT and drug resistance in a clinically relevant manner.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4
JournalJournal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jan 12


  • Cancer-Stroma co-culture
  • EMT
  • Microchannel plate
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Tumor microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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