A cell-instructive hydrogel to regulate malignancy of 3D tumor spheroids with matrix rigidity

Youyun Liang, Jaehyun Jeong, Ross J. DeVolder, Chaenyung Cha, Fei Wang, Yen Wah Tong, Hyunjoon Kong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Three dimensional (3D) tumor spheroid models are becoming important biomedical tools for both fundamental and applied cancer studies, but current models do not account for different levels of cancer malignancy. Several studies have reported that the mechanical rigidity of a hydrogel plays a significant role in regulating the phenotypes of cancer cells adhered to the gel surface. This finding suggests that matrix rigidity should also modulate the malignancy of 3D tumor spheroids. However, the role of matrix stiffness is often confounded by concurrent changes in 3D matrix permeability. This study reports an advanced strategy to assemble 3D liver tumor spheroids with controlled intercellular organization, phenotypes, and angiogenic activities using hydrogels with controlled stiffness and minimal differences in molecular diffusivity. The elastic moduli of cell-encapsulated collagen gels were increased by stiffening interconnected collagen fibers with varied amounts of poly(ethylene glycol) di-(succinic acid N-hydroxysuccinimidyl ester). Interestingly, hepatocellular carcinoma cells encapsulated in a fat-like, softer hydrogel formed malignant cancer spheroids, while cells cultured in a liver-like, stiffer gel formed compact hepatoids with suppressed malignancy. Overall, both the hydrogel and the 3D tumor spheroids developed in this study will be greatly useful to better understand and regulate the emergent behaviors of various cancer cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9308-9315
Number of pages8
Issue number35
StatePublished - Dec 2011


  • Cancer model
  • Cancer spheroid
  • Collagen gel
  • Matrix stiffness
  • Three-dimensional hydrogel

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomaterials
  • Bioengineering
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Biophysics


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