Traditionally, cells have been grown in monolayer cultures on a solid, non-porous surfaces such as polystyrene. While this model allows all cells to live in a uniform environment, it doesn’t mimic the complex intracellular environment that cells experience in vivo. A more physiologically relevant model is a three-dimensional culture. In this environment, cells are able to aggregate spontaneously into microscale spherical clusters known as spheroids. Spheroids display a multicellular arrangement, making them a very powerful tool for a range of applications, particularly in cancer and stem cell research.
Materials for 3D cell cultures
When working with 3D cell cultures, it’s common to experience cell variability. Though it’s difficult to pinpoint the cause, some factors that can contribute to inconsistency are media composition, volume, cell density or length of time in culture.
An additional factor to keep in mind is the adsorptive properties of the culture surface material. To promote spheroid formation, the surface coating blocks the adsorption of extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins that mediate cell adhesion. With such properties, the cells are unable to attach to the culture dish, and instead, attach to one another via cell-cell adhesion. These interactions are similar to those formed in vivo, and as further cells attach, a spheroid is grown.
Another important factor to consider when choosing the right cell culture surface is the impact the material has on cell growth. We recommend that you check that the material you’re using supports cell growth and proliferation to ensure your cells are healthy for both spheroid formation and downstream applications. Ideally the material will support different cell types, enabling you to benefit from a steady culture system for spheroid growth, even if you change cell lines.
When it comes to growing 3D cell cultures, the surface you choose goes a long way. As such we recommend that you opt for a surface that will ensure minimal ECM protein binding and low cell attachment to support spheroid growth across multiple cell lines. Ultimately though, consistency is the key to success so bear this in mind in order to achieve reproducible and accurate results, every time.
To learn more about 3D cell cultures, explore our on-demand webinar in the Cell Culture Cafe: Harnessing new dimensions in your research: Growing 3D cultures consistently and repeatedly.