Polyurethane foam scaffold as in vitro model for breast cancer bone metastasis

Valentina Angeloni, Nicola Contessi, Cinzia De Marco, Serena Bertoldi, Maria Cristina Tanzi, Maria Grazia Daidone, Silvia Farè

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Breast cancer (BC) represents the most incident cancer case in women (29%), with high mortality rate. Bone metastasis occurs in 20–50% cases and, despite advances in BC research, the interactions between tumor cells and the metastatic microenvironment are still poorly understood. In vitro 3D models gained great interest in cancer research, thanks to the reproducibility, the 3D spatial cues and associated low costs, compared to in vivo and 2D in vitro models. In this study, we investigated the suitability of a poly-ether-urethane (PU) foam as 3D in vitro model to study the interactions between BC tumor-initiating cells and the bone microenvironment. PU foam open porosity (>70%) appeared suitable to mimic trabecular bone structure. The PU foam showed good mechanical properties under cyclic compression (E = 69–109 kPa), even if lower than human trabecular bone. The scaffold supported osteoblast SAOS-2 cell line proliferation, with no cytotoxic effects. Human adipose derived stem cells (ADSC) were cultured and differentiated into osteoblast lineage on the PU foam, as shown by alizarin red staining and RT-PCR, thus offering a bone biomimetic microenvironment to the further co-culture with BC derived tumor-initiating cells (MCFS). Tumor aggregates were observed after three weeks of co-culture by e-cadherin staining and SEM; modification in CaP distribution was identified by SEM-EDX and associated to the presence of tumor cells. In conclusion, we demonstrated the suitability of the PU foam to reproduce a bone biomimetic microenvironment, useful for the co-culture of human osteoblasts/BC tumor-initiating cells and to investigate their interaction. Statement of significance 3D in vitro models represent an outstanding alternative in the study of tumor metastases development, compared to traditional 2D in vitro cultures, which oversimplify the 3D tissue microenvironment, and in vivo studies, affected by low reproducibility and ethical issues. Several scaffold-based 3D in vitro models have been proposed to recapitulate the development of metastases in different body sites but, still, the crucial challenge is to correctly mimic the tissue to be modelled in terms of physical, mechanical and biological properties. Here, we prove the suitability of a porous polyurethane foam, synthesized using an appropriate formulaton, in mimicking the bone tissue microenvironment and in reproducing the metastatic colonization derived from human breast cancer, particularly evidencing the devastating effects on the bone extracellular matrix caused by metastatic spreading.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)306-316
Number of pages11
JournalActa Biomaterialia
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2017


  • 3D in vitro culture
  • Bone metastasis model
  • Breast cancer
  • Polyurethane foam

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Molecular Biology


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