A team of researchers at the University of South Carolina are investigating how cancer cells respond to the conditions of 3D cell culture and how we can use their behaviour to study anti-cancer drugs and cancer stem cells. In their work they combine biology with mathematics and biomaterials chemistry.
In this just published Integrative Biology paper, the team led by Hexin Chen and Qian Wang, culture MCF-7 cells on 3D polycaprolactone (PCL) fibrous scaffolds. The fibers are randomly orientated as in a cancerous environment collagen fibres surround breast cancer cells randomly. The fibrous scaffolds are made by electrospinning.
They discover that the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition of the cells, required for cancer cell migration and malignancy, is enhanced when human epithelial breast cancer cells are cultured on this 3D fibrous substrate. For 2D cultures, the population of cancer stem cells remains constant.
Elucidating the exact mechanism of how will be part of the group’s further research. The researchers will also be expanding their previous mathematical models of cancer stem cell growth in tumours to include transformation of non-stem cells to stem cells. This would give an insight into whether the increase in cancer stem cells is down to non-stem cells converting or increasing division of those cancer stem cells already present.
Expansion of breast cancer stem cells with fibrous scaffolds
Sheng Feng, Xinrui Duan, Pang-Kuo Lo, Shou Liu, Xinfeng Liu, Hexin Chen and Qian Wang