The MEMIC is an ex vivo system to model the complexity of the tumor microenvironment

Libuše Janská, Libi Anandi, Nell C. Kirchberger, Zoran S. Marinkovic, Logan T. Schachtner, Gizem Guzelsoy, Carlos Carmona-Fontaine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is an urgent need for accurate, scalable, and cost-efficient experimental systems to model the complexity of the tumor microenvironment. Here, we detail how to fabricate and use the Metabolic Microenvironment Chamber (MEMIC) - a 3D-printed ex vivo model of intratumoral heterogeneity. A major driver of the cellular and molecular diversity in tumors is the accessibility to the blood stream that provides key resources such as oxygen and nutrients. While some tumor cells have direct access to these resources, many others must survive under progressively more ischemic environments as they reside further from the vasculature. The MEMIC is designed to simulate the differential access to nutrients and allows co-culturing different cell types, such as tumor and immune cells. This system is optimized for live imaging and other microscopy-based approaches, and it is a powerful tool to study tumor features such as the effect of nutrient scarcity on tumor-stroma interactions. Due to its adaptable design and full experimental control, the MEMIC provide insights into the tumor microenvironment that would be difficult to obtain via other methods. As a proof of principle, we show that cells sense gradual changes in metabolite concentration resulting in multicellular spatial patterns of signal activation and cell proliferation. To illustrate the ease of studying cell-cell interactions in the MEMIC, we show that ischemic macrophages reduce epithelial features in neighboring tumor cells. We propose the MEMIC as a complement to standard in vitro and in vivo experiments, diversifying the tools available to accurately model, perturb, and monitor the tumor microenvironment, as well as to understand how extracellular metabolites affect other processes such as wound healing and stem cell differentiation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberdmm048942
JournalDMM Disease Models and Mechanisms
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Tissue mimetics
  • Tumor metabolism
  • Tumor microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Immunology and Microbiology (miscellaneous)
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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