Optimized alginate-based 3D printed scaffolds as a model of patient derived breast cancer microenvironments in drug discovery

The cancer microenvironment influences tumor progression and metastasis and is pivotal to consider when designing in vivo-like cancer models. Current preclinical testing platforms for cancer drug development are mainly limited to 2D cell culture systems that poorly mimic physiological environments and traditional, low throughput animal models. The aim of this work was to produce a tunable testing platform based on 3D printed scaffolds (3DPS) with a simple geometry that, by extracellular components and response of breast cancer reporter cells, mimics patient-derived scaffolds (PDS) of breast cancer. Here, the biocompatible polysaccharide alginate was used as base material to generate scaffolds consisting of a 3D grid containing periostin and hydroxyapatite. Breast cancer cell lines (MCF7 and MDA-MB-231) produced similar phenotypes and gene expression levels of cancer stem cell, epithelial–mesenchymal transition, differentiation and proliferation markers when cultured on 3DPS and PDS, contrasting conventional 2D cultures. Importantly, cells cultured on 3DPS and PDS showed scaffold-specific responses to cytotoxic drugs (doxorubicin and 5-fluorouracil) that were different from 2D cultured cells. In conclusion, the data presented support the use of a tunable alginate-based 3DPS as a tumor model in breast cancer drug discovery.