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High throughput analysis of 3D cell culture models for personalised therapy of head and neck tumors


Nicole Rotter, Heidelberg University
Annette Affolter, Heidelberg University

Project description

Head and neck cancer, the sixth most common cancer, is mainly treated by surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, but therapy is increasingly being supplemented by immunotherapies. However, response rates are low and unpredictable. Patient-derived 3D cell culture models (heterotypic spheroids, organotypic co-cultures, 3D bioprinted models) should help personalise treatments by predicting the response to potential therapies. The aim of this project is to generate 3D patient-derived models and evaluate them for their ability to predict response to different therapies and their usefulness for high-throughput analyses. In collaboration with groups from the Mannheim University of Applied Sciences, high-content and high-throughput analytical methods based on spectroscopic techniques are being tested to establish a predictive assay matrix to specifically analyse the short- and long-term effects of standard therapies and new drugs/combinations.


  1. Affolter A, Kern J, Bieback K, Scherl C, Rotter N, Lammert A. Biomarkers and 3D models predicting response to immune checkpoint blockade in head and neck cancer (Review). Int J Oncol. 2022 Jul;61(1):88. doi: 10.3892/ijo.2022.5378.
  2. Affolter A, Lammert A, Kern J, Scherl C, Rotter N. Precision Medicine Gains Momentum: Novel 3D Models and Stem Cell-Based Approaches in Head and Neck Cancer. Front Cell Dev Biol. 2021 Jul 8;9:666515. doi: 10.3389/fcell.2021.666515.
  3. Tenschert E, Kern J, Affolter A, Rotter N, Lammert A. Optimisation of Conditions for the Formation of Spheroids of Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma Cell Lines for Use as Animal Alternatives. Altern Lab Anim. 2022 Oct 20:2611929221135042. doi: 10.1177/02611929221135042.

Methods used

Various 3D cell culture techniques, including 3D bioprinting, will be used in this project. Protein and gene expression analysis of cancer cells and cells of the tumour microenvironment will be performed by common immunological and molecular biological techniques such as Western Blotting, immunohistochemistry, immunofluorescence and quantitative RT-PCR. The different cell types are characterised by flow cytometry. The distribution of the cells in the 3D models is analysed using spatial biology techniques.

Collaboration Partner

Applicants profile

The highly motivated applicant should have a degree in life sciences (or related field of study). Good knowledge of cell culture techniques, immunological and molecular biology techniques is required. Knowledge of 3D cell culture methods and spatial biology techniques is an advantage. Ability to work in a team, independently and on one's own responsibility is required. German language skills are helpful but not a prerequisite.