3D Cell Culture

Traditionally, tissue and cell studies have relied on 2D cell-cultures. These 2D models do not accurately reflect the in vivo cellular environment.

In normal 3D arrangement of cells and tissues there are multiple, opposed tissue types that are highly dynamic and variable in terms of their 3D structure, mechanical properties and biochemical microenvironment.

3D cell culture methods have attempted to overcome the limitations of 2D cultures. In 3D cell culture the cells are grown within extracellular matrix (ECM) gels. This method enhances expression of differentiated functions and improves tissue organization.

However, the best 3D culture models cannot reconstitute features of living organs that are important for cell–cell interactions and spaciotemporal arrangements needed for their functions.

The restrictions of 2D cell cultures necessitate animal studies. But the results from animal studies of pharmaceuticals often fail to mimic the human responses. 3D cell culture thus remains the best option once the hurdles are overcome.

What is a 3D cell culture?

3D cell culture is defined as the culture of living cells and tissues within scaffolds that have a 3D structure that mimic the typical organ microarchitecture. The gels of which the 3D structures are grown are called 3D ECM gel cultures or conventional 3D cultures.

AMSBIO has numerous matrices and other solutions for 3D cell culture. These are color coded as well and chosen according to protocol and need.

Spheroid (red)

This is the most common type of 3D culture. It is used widely in cancer research as the format allows or rapid discovery of morphological changes in transformed cells.

The cells are embedded in ECM and left to grow, multiply and polarise according to the organ of origin.

If the cells are normal, they form a perfect sphere; whereas if they are malignant, the cells have a distorted appearance.

The commonest ECM used is basement membrane extract (BME) or collagen. A scaffold free spheroid culture, where the cells are suspended in media, is also available.

Analysis of cell invasion from spheroid culture, using 3D Culture 96 Well BME Cell Invasion Assay.
Analysis of cell invasion from spheroid culture, using 3D Culture 96 Well BME Cell Invasion Assay.

Organotypic (blue) 

These cultures of epithelial tissues typically involve both an epithelial layer on the top and a mixture of extracellular matrix protein, collagen, and fibroblasts.

Organotypic cultures using synthetic matrices or artificial scaffolds are also in use.

Alvetex® is one such scaffold that can be used in these situations. It allows for extraction of proteins from cells cultured in 3D without interference. Alvetex® is used for studies like liver cultures and cancer research.


Directional cultures (green)

These are a specialized type of 3D cell culture. They are useful in tissue regeneration applications like nerve or muscle regeneration and repair.

This type of culture uses native extracellular proteins, like laminin or collagen and other matrices.

Applications of 3D cell cultures

Microengineered 3D cell-culture models have a wide variety of applications in clinics as well as in the pharmaceutical industry.

For the pharmaceutical industries, 3D cell cultures provide an economical, ethical and scientific way of accelerating drug development. They allow the creation of drugs that are safer and more effective in humans at a lower cost.

Similarly the chemical and cosmetic industry also benefit from 3D cell cultures by overcoming challenges faced by animal testing.

In the pre-clinical setting, the microengineered cell-culture systems that are made to mimic organ systems can be developed in disease models to determine pharmacokinetic properties of compounds, explore different routes of drug delivery and their efficacy and determine genetic predisposition to drug response and adverse events (pharmacogenetics). 


AMSBIO is a premier provider of quality life science research reagents and services helping customers develop innovative methods, processes, products and medicines. This is achieved by offering small and medium size manufacturers, academic groups and revenue generating biotechs a unique partnership for the global market and by providing state of the art and cost effective solutions to end users and partners.

Last updated: Aug 13, 2013 at 12:23 PM

Other White Papers by this Supplier