Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most common and the second deadliest type of cancer worldwide, urging the development of more comprehensive models and of more efficient treatments. Although the combination of nanotechnology with chemo- and immuno-therapy has represented a promising treatment approach, its translation to the clinic has been hampered by the absence of cellular models that can provide reliable and predictive knowledge about the in vivo efficiency of the formulation. Herein, a 3D model based on CRC multicellular tumor spheroids (MCTS) model was developed by combining epithelial colon cancer cells (HCT116), human intestinal fibroblasts and monocytes. The developed MCTS 3D model mimicked several tumor features with cells undergoing spatial organization and producing extracellular matrix, forming a mass of tissue with a necrotic core. Furthermore, monocytes were differentiated into macrophages with an anti-inflammatory, pro-tumor M2-like phenotype. For a combined chemoimmunotherapy effect, spermine-modified acetalated dextran nanoparticles (NPs) loaded with the chemotherapeutic Nutlin-3a (Nut3a) and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) were produced and tested in 2D cultures and in the MCTS 3D model. NPs were successfully taken-up by the cells in 2D, but in a significant less extent in the 3D model. However, these NPs were able to induce an anti-proliferative effect both in the 2D and in the 3D models. Moreover, Nut3a was able to partially shift the polarization of the macrophages present in the MCTS 3D model towards an anti-tumor M1-like phenotype. Overall, the developed MCTS 3D model showed to recapitulate key features of tumors, while representing a valuable model to assess the effect of combinatorial nano-therapeutic strategies in CRC. In addition, the developed NPs could represent a promising approach for CRC treatment.
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