BACKGROUND: Recently, there has been an increase in the availability of targeted molecular therapies for cancer treatment. The application of these approaches to esophageal cancer, however, has been hampered by the relative lack of appropriate models for preclinical testing. Patient-derived tumor xenograft (PDTX) models are gaining popularity for studying many cancers. Unfortunately, it has proven difficult to generate xenografts from esophageal cancer using these models. The purpose of this study was to improve the engraftment efficiency of esophageal PDTXs. METHODS: Fresh pieces of esophageal tumors obtained from endoscopic biopsies or resected specimens were collected from 23 patients. The tumors were then coated in Matrigel and transplanted in immunocompromised mice subcutaneously (n = 6) and/or using a novel implantation technique whereby the tumor is placed in a dorsal intramuscular pocket (n = 18). They are then monitored for engraftment. RESULTS: With the novel intramuscular technique, successful engraftment was achieved for all 18 patient tumors. Among these PDTXs, 13 recapitulated the original patient tumors with respect to degree of differentiation, molecular and genetic profiles, and chemotherapeutic response. Lymphomatous transformation was observed in the other five PDTXs. Successful engraftment was achieved for only one of six patient tumors using the classic subcutaneous approach. DISCUSSION: We achieved a much higher engraftment rate of PDTXs using our novel intramuscular transplant technique than has been reported in other published studies. It is hoped that this advancement will help expedite the development and testing of new therapies for esophageal cancer.