3D cell culture is an innovative technique to accurately model human tissues with massive potential in biomedical applications. It’s unique ‘near to in-vivo’ characteristics make it an attractive tool in fields such as drug development and testing, tissue engineering, and cancer research to name a few.

Have you wondered how are cells cultured in three dimensions in a lab? Well, based on the application, there are broadly two types of 3D cell cultures depending on the use of scaffolds. Scaffolds are supporting elements that promote the growth of cells in a well-defined shape and structure to match the tissue of interest.

Scaffold-free 3D culture –  This is a simplistic way of culturing cells in 3D where the cells are grown without using a scaffold and allowed to interact with each other and self-arrange to form clusters called spheroids. These spheroids recapitulate the physiological characteristics of tissues with regard to cell-cell contact. In one such study at NRG, we developed lung cancer spheroids to evaluate a novel drug delivery method and showed that spheroids can be a suitable model for drug-based investigations. 

Scaffold-based 3D cell culture – This type of 3D cell culture is developed by providing scaffolds to cells for physical support on which they can attach and grow in a specific shape. The scaffolds can be of synthetic or natural origin and the choice of selection is dependent on the application. For instance, recognizing the limited treatment options in severe burn victims, we have developed an inexpensive, biocompatible, and biodegradable scaffold to promote wound healing.

3D cultures are now being integrated with microfluidic chambers to construct in vitro organ-on-a-chip to model several diseases. With such disruptive innovations, we will be better equipped to tackle the increasing global disease burden. 3D cell cultures, thus, have an enormous potential to have a positive impact on global health.