The limitations of the agar suspension culture method for primary culturing of human tumor cells prompted development of a monolayer system optimized for cell adhesion and growth. This method grew 83% of fresh human tumor cell biopsy specimens, cultured and not contaminated, from a heterogeneous group of 396 tumors including lung cancer (93 of 114, 82%); melanoma (54 of 72, 75%); sarcoma (46 of 59, 78%); breast cancer (35 of 39, 90%); ovarian cancer (16 of 21, 76%); and a miscellaneous group consisting of gastrointestinal, genitourinary, mesothelioma, and unknown primaries (78 of 91, 86%). Cell growth was characterized morphologically with Papanicolaoustained coverslip cultures and cytogenetically with Giemsastained metaphase spreads. Morphological features such as nuclear pleomorphism, chromatin condensation, basophilic cytoplasm, and melanin pigmentation were routinely seen. Aneuploid metaphases were seen in 90% of evaluable cultures, with 15 of 28 showing 70% or more aneuploid metaphases. Colony-forming efficiency ranged between 0.01 and 1% of viable tumor cells, with a median efficiency of 0.2%. This culture system uses a low inoculum of 25,000 viable cells per well which permitted chemosensitivity testing of nine drugs at four doses in duplicate from 2.2 × 106 viable tumor cells and radiation sensitivity testing at five doses in quadruplicate from 0.6 × 106 cells. Cultures were analyzed for survival by computerized image analysis of crystal violet-stained cells. Drug sensitivity studies showed variability in sensitivity and in survival curve shape with exponential cell killing for cisplatin, Adriamycin, and etoposide, and shouldered survival curves for 5-fluorouracil frequently seen. Radiation sensitivity studies also showed variability in both sensitivity and survival curve shape. Many cultures showed exponential cell killing, although others had shouldered survival curves. This method for growing cells from primary human biopsy specimens is more efficient than the agar culture method, enables easier and better biological analysis of the actual cells grown, and permits improved characterization of drug and radiation survival curves.


This work was supported by Contract JMV:bg 11783 from LifeTrac, Ltd., Irvine, CA. This work was presented at the 76th Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research at Houston, TX, 1985 (1).

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