Biofabrication of Modular Spheroids as Tumor-Scale Microenvironments for Drug Screening

Naveen Vijayan Mekhileri, Gretel Major, Khoon Lim, Isha Mutreja, Kenny Chitcholtan, Elisabeth Phillips, Gary Hooper, Tim Woodfield*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


To streamline the drug discovery pipeline, there is a pressing need for preclinical models which replicate the complexity and scale of native tumors. While there have been advancements in the formation of microscale tumor units, these models are cell-line dependent, time-consuming and have not improved clinical trial success rates. In this study, two methods for generating 3D tumor microenvironments are compared, rapidly fabricated hydrogel microspheres and traditional cell-dense spheroids. These modules are then bioassembled into 3D printed thermoplastic scaffolds, using an automated biofabrication process, to form tumor-scale models. Modules are formed with SKOV3 and HFF cells as monocultures and cocultures, and the fabrication efficiency, cell architecture, and drug response profiles are characterized, both as single modules and as multimodular constructs. Cell-encapsulated Gel-MA microspheres are fabricated with high-reproducibility and dimensions necessary for automated tumor-scale bioassembly regardless of cell type, however, only cocultured spheroids form compact modules suitable for bioassembly. Chemosensitivity assays demonstrate the reduced potency of doxorubicin in coculture bioassembled constructs and a ≈five-fold increase in drug resistance of cocultured cells in 3D modules compared with 2D monolayers. This bioassembly system is efficient and tailorable so that a variety of relevant-sized tumor constructs could be developed to study tumorigenesis and modernize drug discovery.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2201581
JournalAdvanced Healthcare Materials
Issue number14
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • drug screening
  • microspheres
  • modular assembly
  • spheroids
  • tumor microenvironment
  • tumor-scale models


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