Research Papers:

Automated tracking of tumor-stroma morphology in microtissues identifies functional targets within the tumor microenvironment for therapeutic intervention

Malin Åkerfelt _, Neslihan Bayramoglu, Sean Robinson, Mervi Toriseva, Hannu-Pekka Schukov, Ville Härmä, Johannes Virtanen, Raija Sormunen, Mika Kaakinen, Juho Kannala, Lauri Eklund, Janne Heikkilä, Matthias Nees

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Oncotarget. 2015; 6:30035-30056. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.5046

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Malin Åkerfelt1,2, Neslihan Bayramoglu3, Sean Robinson4,5,6,7, Mervi Toriseva1,2,8, Hannu-Pekka Schukov8, Ville Härmä2, Johannes Virtanen2, Raija Sormunen9, Mika Kaakinen10, Juho Kannala3, Lauri Eklund10, Janne Heikkilä3, Matthias Nees1,2

1Turku Centre for Biotechnology, University of Turku, Turku, FI-20520, Finland

2VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Turku, FI-20521, Finland

3Centre for Machine Vision Research, University of Oulu, Oulu, FI-90014, Finland

4Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Turku, Turku, FI-20014, Finland

5University Grenoble Alpes, iRTSV-BGE, Grenoble, F-38000, France

6CEA, iRTSV-BGE, Grenoble, F-38000, France

7INSERM, BGE, Grenoble, F-38000, France

8Institute of Biomedicine, University of Turku, Turku, FI-20520, Finland

9Biocenter Oulu and Department of Pathology, University of Oulu and Oulu University Hospital, Oulu, FI-90220, Finland

10Oulu Center for Cell-Matrix Research, Biocenter Oulu and Faculty of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, University of Oulu, Oulu, FI-90014, Finland

Correspondence to:

Matthias Nees, e-mail: matthias.nees@btk.fi

Keywords: 3D co-culture, cancer associated fibroblast (CAF), phenotypic screening, invasion, focal adhesion kinase (FAK)

Received: March 21, 2015     Accepted: August 24, 2015     Published: September 03, 2015


Cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) constitute an important part of the tumor microenvironment and promote invasion via paracrine functions and physical impact on the tumor. Although the importance of including CAFs into three-dimensional (3D) cell cultures has been acknowledged, computational support for quantitative live-cell measurements of complex cell cultures has been lacking. Here, we have developed a novel automated pipeline to model tumor-stroma interplay, track motility and quantify morphological changes of 3D co-cultures, in real-time live-cell settings. The platform consists of microtissues from prostate cancer cells, combined with CAFs in extracellular matrix that allows biochemical perturbation. Tracking of fibroblast dynamics revealed that CAFs guided the way for tumor cells to invade and increased the growth and invasiveness of tumor organoids. We utilized the platform to determine the efficacy of inhibitors in prostate cancer and the associated tumor microenvironment as a functional unit. Interestingly, certain inhibitors selectively disrupted tumor-CAF interactions, e.g. focal adhesion kinase (FAK) inhibitors specifically blocked tumor growth and invasion concurrently with fibroblast spreading and motility. This complex phenotype was not detected in other standard in vitro models. These results highlight the advantage of our approach, which recapitulates tumor histology and can significantly improve cancer target validation in vitro.

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