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Highlights in Chemical Biology

Chemical biology news from across RSC Publishing.

3D tissue culture

05 March 2007

In an important step forward for drug development and tissue engineering, Singaporean scientists have used a chamber full of micropillars to grow three-dimensional cell cultures. The team, from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology and the National University of Singapore, used the micropillars to provide scaffolding for 3D cancer cell, liver cell and bone marrow stem cell structures.

"The structures may offer better models in many biomedical areas, ranging from basic cell biology to cell-based drug screening."
- Albert Folch

The 3D cell cultures mimic real biological tissues and provide a good model to analyse the interactions and stresses that cells experience in vivo. Liquids can flow round and through the cell cultures, allowing drugs or other chemicals to be delivered and their effects measured. The entire system is transparent, so cells can easily be monitored using a microscope.

SEM micrograph of hepatocytes three-dimensionally immobilized in a microfluidic channel

Micropillars provide scaffolding for 3D cell structures

Hanry Yu, who led the team, believes that 3D cell cultures are the best way of studying the many factors that influence cell growth and behaviour. 'Cells in vivo interact with their environment in 3D, encompassing neighbouring cells, the extracellular matrix and soluble chemicals as well as mechanical forces exerted on the cells,' he said. 

Yu's approach minimises cell-scaffolding contact to allow researchers to concentrate instead on the way cells interact with each other and with chemical cues. As a result the cells grow in a much more realistic environment than has been the case in previous attempts to study 3D cell cultures. 'By precisely engineering the 3D cellular microenvironment, complex biological processes, such as stem cell renewal or differentiation, can potentially be elucidated. Our 3D cell culture system can also be adapted for high throughput in vitro drug testing applications,' said Yu.

Albert Folch, professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington in Seattle, US, agrees. 'These structures are more reminiscent of the complex architectures seen in vivo than the traditional 2D cultures,' he said. 'They may offer better models in many biomedical areas, ranging from basic cell biology to cell-based drug screening.'

Clare Boothby

Link to journal article

A novel 3D mammalian cell perfusion-culture system in microfluidic channels
Yi-Chin Toh, Chi Zhang, Jing Zhang, Yuet Mei Khong, Shi Chang, Victor D. Samper, Danny van Noort, Dietmar W. Hutmacher and Hanry Yu, Lab Chip, 2007, 7, 302
DOI: 10.1039/b614872g