Measuring real-time drug response in organotypic tumor tissue slices

Nao Nishida-Aoki, Andrew J. Bondesson, Taranjit S. Gujral*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Tumor tissues are composed of cancerous cells, infiltrated immune cells, endothelial cells, fibroblasts, and extracellular matrix. This complex milieu constitutes the tumor microenvironment (TME) and can modulate response to therapy in vivo or drug response ex vivo. Conventional cancer drug discovery screens are carried out on cells cultured in a monolayer, a system critically lacking the influence of TME. Thus, experimental systems that integrate sensitive and high-throughput assays with physiological TME will strengthen the preclinical drug discovery process. Here, we introduce ex vivo tumor tissue slice culture as a platform for medium-high-throughput drug screening. Organotypic tissue slice culture constitutes precisely-cut, thin tumor sections that are maintained with the support of a porous membrane in a liquid-air interface. In this protocol, we describe the preparation and maintenance of tissue slices prepared from mouse tumors and tumors from patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models. To assess changes in tissue viability in response to drug treatment, we leveraged a biocompatible luminescence-based viability assay that enables real-time, rapid, and sensitive measurement of viable cells in the tissue. Using this platform, we evaluated dose-dependent responses of tissue slices to the multi-kinase inhibitor, staurosporine, and cytotoxic agent, doxorubicin. Further, we demonstrate the application of tissue slices for ex vivo pharmacology by screening 17 clinical and preclinical drugs on tissue slices prepared from a single PDX tumor. Our physiologically-relevant, highly-sensitive, and robust ex vivo screening platform will greatly strengthen preclinical oncology drug discovery and treatment decision making.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere61036
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number159
Publication statusPublished - 2020 May
Externally publishedYes


  • Alternatives to animal testing
  • Cancer
  • Cancer research
  • Drug screening
  • High-throughput
  • Issue 159
  • Luminescence
  • Organotypic
  • Patient-derived xenograft (PDX)
  • Real-time viability measurement
  • Tissue slice culture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


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