Hydrogel Models with Stiffness Gradients for Interrogating Pancreatic Cancer Cell Fate
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Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is the most common type of pancreatic cancer and has seen only modest improvements in patient survival rate over the past few decades. PDAC is highly aggressive and resistant to chemotherapy, owing to the presence of a dense and hypovascularized fibrotic tissue, which is composed of stromal cells and extracellular matrices. Increase deposition and crosslinking of matrices by stromal cells lead to a heterogeneous microenvironment that aids in PDAC development. In the past decade, various hydrogel-based, in vitro tumor models have been developed to mimic and recapitulate aspects of the tumor microenvironment in PDAC. Advances in hydrogel chemistry and engineering should provide a venue for discovering new insights regarding how matrix properties govern PDAC cell growth, migration, invasion, and drug resistance. These engineered hydrogels are ideal for understanding how variation in matrix properties contributes to the progressiveness of cancer cells, including durotaxis, the directional migration of cells in response to a stiffness gradient. This review surveys the various hydrogel-based, in vitro tumor models and the methods to generate gradient stiffness for studying migration and other cancer cell fate processes in PDAC.