Why culture cells in 3 dimensions?
Big Picture 3D vs 2D Cell Culture
The Big Picture:
Simply put, cells in 3D environments are much more similar to cells in a living organism (in vivo) than flat, unnaturally thin, single layer cells grown on 2D plastic.
- Shape: Typical cells in 3D are ellipsoids with dimensions of 10-30 μm. Cells in 2D are flat with typical thickness of 3 μm.
- Environment: Typical cells in 3D have nearly 100% of their surface area exposed to other cells or matrix. Cells in 2D have approximately 50% of their surface area exposed to fluid, approximately 50% exposed to the flat culture surface or intermediate, and a very small percent exposed to other cells.
- Behavior: Cells in 3D, as compared to 2D, show differences in: Differentiation, Drug Metabolism, Expression (Gene, Protein), General Cell Function, In Vivo Relevance, Morphology, Proliferation, Response to Stimuli, and Viability.
Intuitively one can appreciate that with cells, form affects function. Unnaturally shaped cells in unnatural environments would be expected to function … unnaturally. In the mid-late 20th century, the unnatural shape of cultured cells was actually a plus – when viewed through a common microscope it’s quite convenient to view flat, thin shapes in single layers. Good, if you want to identify and study what mitochondria are. Not so good, if you want to predict the complex behavior of a biological system of many different interacting cell types functioning in three dimensional environments, for example the response of a human being to a potential drug.
Today, there is increasing awareness of the drawbacks of 2D cell culture and the related effect on the value of the research being performed. Not surprisingly, scientists are shifting their focus to cells cultured in 3D, as illustrated by the publications graph below. This website is dedicated to providing a single information source for cell culture researchers undertaking the challenge of implementing 3D techniques to create more relevant in vitro models of complex biological systems.