3D Silicon Microstructures: A New Tool for Evaluating Biological Aggressiveness of Tumor Cells

Giuliano Mazzini, Francesca Carpignano, Salvatore Surdo, Francesca Aredia, Nicolò Panini, Martina Torchio, Eugenio Erba, Marco Danova, Anna Ivana Scovassi, Giuseppe Barillaro, Sabina Merlo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this work, silicon micromachined structures (SMS), consisting of arrays of 3-μm-thick silicon walls separated by 50-μm-deep, 5-μm-wide gaps, were applied to investigate the behavior of eight tumor cell lines, with different origins and biological aggressiveness, in a three-dimensional (3D) microenvironment. Several cell culture experiments were performed on 3D-SMS and cells grown on silicon were stained for fluorescence microscopy analyses. Most of the tumor cell lines recognized in the literature as highly aggressive (OVCAR-5, A375, MDA-MB-231, and RPMI-7951) exhibited a great ability to enter and colonize the narrow deep gaps of the SMS, whereas less aggressive cell lines (OVCAR-3, Capan-1, MCF7, and NCI-H2126) demonstrated less penetration capability and tended to remain on top of the SMS. Quantitative image analyses of several fluorescence microscopy fields of silicon samples were performed for automatic cell recognition and count, in order to quantify the fraction of cells inside the gaps, with respect to the total number of cells in the examined field. Our results show that higher fractions of cells in the gaps are obtained with more aggressive cell lines, thus supporting in a quantitative way the observation that the behavior of tumor cells on the 3D-SMS depends on their aggressiveness level.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7239627
Pages (from-to)797-805
Number of pages9
JournalIEEE Transactions on Nanobioscience
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2015


  • Cell plasticity
  • cell recognition and quantification
  • metastasis
  • silicon microstructure
  • three-dimensional (3D) microenvironment
  • tumor cell aggressiveness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biotechnology
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Bioengineering
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Pharmaceutical Science


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