2D Versus 3D Cell Culture

2D cell culture has traditionally been seen to be the most successful method of growing simple cells. However, in recent years, 3D cell culture has received much more attention from scientists, due to the new capabilities it is believed to have.

In this post, we will explore the differences between the two cell culture methods, and how they can both be used.

Introduction to 2D Cell Culture

Most scientists are familiar with 2D cell culture, as it has been around since the early 1900s – and so it is seen as a well-established and proven conventional approach for most current routine assays.

2D cell cultures are still used in the majority of cell culture research as they are easy to set up and analyse as they consist of cells grown on flat dishes that are typically made of plastic.

The advantages of using 2D cell cultures include:

  • They are relatively inexpensive due to economies of scale
  • The fact they have been in use for so long means there is a lot of literature available allowing scientists to compare results
  • They typically allow for easier cell observation and analysis than some 3D cell culture systems
  • Everyone carrying out cell culture will have been taught the 2D method, so it is universally understood

However, the fact that 2D cell culture is so extensively used nowadays, means that some disadvantages of this technology have also become apparent, including:

  • They are not representative of the in vivo environment as the technique involves cells growing in a monolayer on a flat surface
  • Poor translation to in vivo meaning it is often not possible to make reliable predictions for human clinical trials
  • Lack of predictivity leads to more human clinical trial failures, which can be very costly

Therefore, it is easy to see why 3D cell culture has been gaining in popularity in the past few years.

Introduction to 3D Cell Culture

Despite the fact that 3D cell cultures seem to be new technology, they have actually been around for a long time. Ross Granville Harrison, an American Zoologist, is credited as being the first scientist to work successfully with artificial tissue culture in 1907.

His work led to advances in many fields, including genetics, oncology and virology with Mina Bissell, lead researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, really driving the popularity of 3D cell cultures for cancer research purposes back in the early 1980s.

The 3D scaffold or extracellular matrix (ECM) provides scientists with a way to grow cells in three dimensions, helping to bring the in vivo to the in vitro. These ECMs have tiny pores that allow the passage of nutrients and gases which in turn offer cells the environment they need to survive.

3D cell culture has become more and more popular due to:

  • Offering scientists a better simulation of the in vivo environment in a living organism
  • An enhancement of cell-to-cell interaction and signalling due to the creation of complex systems linked together with microfluidics
  • A reduction in the use of animals – which isn’t a reliable way to predict how drugs will affect humans anyway
  • More reliable and relevant results
2d vas 3d cell culture

The Future of Cell Culture

In the past ten years, 3D cell culture systems and techniques have come a long way, but we are still just scratching the surface. As scientists and pharmaceutical companies learn more about the potential of 3D cell culture, we may even say goodbye to flat biology, and eliminate the need for animal testing in research.

What’s next for cell culture? 4D cell culture, maybe? Watch this space!

At Manchester BIOGEL, we are proud to be at the forefront of the use of 3D cell culture, working with scientists in a wide range of areas to open up new possibilities for them to use 3D cell culture as part of their testing regime. If you would like to discover more about this innovative technology, then please get in touch.

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