3D Volumetric Mechanosensation of MCF7 Breast Cancer Spheroids in a Linear Stiffness Gradient GelAGE

Danielle Vahala, Sebastian E. Amos, Marta Sacchi, Bram G. Soliman, Matt S. Hepburn, Alireza Mowla, Jiayue Li, Ji Hoon Jeong, Chrissie Astell, Yongsung Hwang, Brendan F. Kennedy, Khoon S. Lim, Yu Suk Choi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The tumor microenvironment presents spatiotemporal shifts in biomechanical properties with cancer progression. Hydrogel biomaterials like GelAGE offer the stiffness tuneability to recapitulate dynamic changes in tumor tissues by altering photo-energy exposures. Here, a tuneable hydrogel with spatiotemporal control of stiffness and mesh-network is developed. The volume of MCF7 spheroids encapsulated in a linear stiffness gradient demonstrates an inverse relationship with stiffness (p < 0.0001). As spheroids are exposed to increased crosslinking (stiffer) and greater mechanical confinement, spheroid stiffness increases. Protein expression (TRPV4, β1 integrin, E-cadherin, and F-actin) decreases with increasing stiffness while showing strong correlations to spheroid volume (r2 > 0.9). To further investigate the role of volume, MCF7 spheroids are grown in a soft matrix for 5 days prior to a second polymerisation which presents a stiffness gradient to equally expanded spheroids. Despite being exposed to variable stiffness, these spheroids show even protein expression, confirming volume as a key regulator. Overall, this work showcases the versatility of GelAGE and demonstrates volume expansion as a key regulator of 3D mechanosensation in MCF7 breast cancer spheroids. This platform has the potential to further investigation into the role of stiffness and dimensionality in 3D spheroid culture for other types of cancers and diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2301506
Pages (from-to)e2301506
JournalAdvanced Healthcare Materials
Issue number31
Early online date5 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2023

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