Translating complexity and heterogeneity of pancreatic tumor: 3D in vitro to in vivo models

Marcel A. Heinrich, Ahmed M.R.H. Mostafa, Jennifer P. Morton, Lukas J.A.C. Hawinkels, Jai Prakash*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
83 Downloads (Pure)


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is an extremely aggressive type of cancer with an overall survival rate of less than 7–8%, emphasizing the need for novel effective therapeutics against PDAC. However only a fraction of therapeutics which seemed promising in the laboratory environment will eventually reach the clinic. One of the main reasons behind this low success rate is the complex tumor microenvironment (TME) of PDAC, a highly fibrotic and dense stroma surrounding tumor cells, which supports tumor progression as well as increases the resistance against the treatment. In particular, the growing understanding of the PDAC TME points out a different challenge in the development of efficient therapeutics – a lack of biologically relevant in vitro and in vivo models that resemble the complexity and heterogeneity of PDAC observed in patients. The purpose and scope of this review is to provide an overview of the recent developments in different in vitro and in vivo models, which aim to recapitulate the complexity of PDAC in a laboratory environment, as well to describe how 3D in vitro models can be integrated into drug development pipelines that are already including sophisticated in vivo models. Hereby a special focus will be given on the complexity of in vivo models and the challenges in vitro models face to reach the same levels of complexity in a controllable manner. First, a brief introduction of novel developments in two dimensional (2D) models and ex vivo models is provided. Next, recent developments in three dimensional (3D) in vitro models are described ranging from spheroids, organoids, scaffold models, bioprinted models to organ-on-chip models including a discussion on advantages and limitations for each model. Furthermore, we will provide a detailed overview on the current PDAC in vivo models including chemically-induced models, syngeneic and xenogeneic models, highlighting hetero- and orthotopic, patient-derived tissues (PDX) models, and genetically engineered mouse models. Finally, we will provide a discussion on overall limitations of both, in vitro and in vivo models, and discuss necessary steps to overcome these limitations to reach an efficient drug development pipeline, as well as discuss possibilities to include novel in silico models in the process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)265-293
Number of pages29
JournalAdvanced drug delivery reviews
Early online date23 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


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