The Applications and Challenges of the Development of In Vitro Tumor Microenvironment Chips

Annika Johnson, Samuel Reimer, Ryan Childres, Grace Cupp, Tia C.L. Kohs, Owen J.T. McCarty, Youngbok (Abraham) Kang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The tumor microenvironment (TME) plays a critical, yet mechanistically elusive role in tumor development and progression, as well as drug resistance. To better understand the pathophysiology of the complex TME, a reductionist approach has been employed to create in vitro microfluidic models called “tumor chips”. Herein, we review the fabrication processes, applications, and limitations of the tumor chips currently under development for use in cancer research. Tumor chips afford capabilities for real-time observation, precise control of microenvironment factors (e.g. stromal and cellular components), and application of physiologically relevant fluid shear stresses and perturbations. Applications for tumor chips include drug screening and toxicity testing, assessment of drug delivery modalities, and studies of transport and interactions of immune cells and circulating tumor cells with primary tumor sites. The utility of tumor chips is currently limited by the ability to recapitulate the nuances of tumor physiology, including extracellular matrix composition and stiffness, heterogeneity of cellular components, hypoxic gradients, and inclusion of blood cells and the coagulome in the blood microenvironment. Overcoming these challenges and improving the physiological relevance of in vitro tumor models could provide powerful testing platforms in cancer research and decrease the need for animal and clinical studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-21
Number of pages19
JournalCellular and Molecular Bioengineering
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • Cancer research
  • Microfluidic device
  • Tumor chip
  • Tumor microenvironment (TME)
  • Tumor model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Modeling and Simulation
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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