Frontispiece published in Advanced Healthcare Materials

The new paper A tumor microenvironment model of pancreatic cancer to elucidate responses toward immunotherapy by Verena Kast, Ali Nadernezhad, Dagmar Pette, Anastasiia Gabrielyan, Maximilian Fusenig, Kim C. Honselmann, Daniel E. Stange, Carsten Werner, and Daniela Loessner introduces a pre-clinical platform of pancreatic cancer that reconstruct the extracellular, cellular, and biomechanical elements of tumor tissues to assess responses toward immunotherapy.

Pancreatic cancer is a devastating malignancy with minimal treatment options. Standard-of-care therapy, including surgery and chemotherapy, is unsatisfactory, and therapies harnessing the immune system have been unsuccessful in clinical trials. Currently, most immunotherapies are tested in genetically engineered mouse models and patient-derived xenografts, presenting poor clinical translation because of the lack of human immune components. To address this limitations, and to model the tumor-immune cell responses in pancreatic cancer, a fully defined and biomimetic 3D model of human pancreatic cancer is presented, recreating the stiffness of tumor-bearing tissue, enabling cell-matrix interactions, and replicating the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment. The engineered 3D model is based on matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-sensitive four-arm star-shaped PEG (starPEG)–heparin hydrogels. Integrin-binding motifs are incorporated to provide cell adhesion sites, enabling cell proliferation and migration. By establishing a multicellular and biomimetic model using pancreatic cancer cells, together with patient-derived fibroblasts and immune cells, this platform allowed the testing of immunomodulatory treatments in combination with chemotherapy.

A characteristic electron microscopy image of this complex engineered tumor microenvironment is featured as the frontispiece of the special issue “Engineered Biomaterials for Developing Next Generation of in vitro Tumor Models” in Advanced Healthcare Materials. Link to the cover image on the journal’s homepage.

Contact: Leibniz Institute of Polymer Research Dresden (IPF), Institute of Biofunctional Polymer Materials (IBP), Dr. Daniela Loessner ( and Prof. Carsten Werner (


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