3D Cell Culture Poised to Revolutionize Novel Drug Testing Process

Published Date : Oct 12, 2016

Cell culture is defined as a process of growing living cells outside their natural environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, and nutrition. The cells or tissues thus obtained have applications in several sectors such as research, academics, bioprocessing and manufacturing, cell therapy, and regenerative medicines. Among that, cell culture in three dimension (3D) has been touted as “biology’s new dimension” because of enormous possibilities such as drug discovery, cancer biology, regenerative medicine, and basic life science research. 

Application of 3D Cell Culture in Drug Discovery

The overall cost of bringing a novel drug to the market exceeds billions of dollars and the development process of a successful compound is extremely lengthy. As a result, researchers are anxious to increase the efficiency of the drug development process and 3D cell cultures are seen as a solution to speed-up the drug testing process (for instance, only 21% of new compounds make it to phase I of clinical trials on an average). The additional dimension of 3D compared to 2D cell cultures influences the spatial organization of the cell surface receptors engaged in interactions with surrounding cells. 3D cell cultures also induce physical constraints to the cells and as a result, these spatial and physical aspects influence gene expression and cellular behaviors. Responses to drug treatments in 3D cell culture have shown striking similarity to what occurs “in vivo” compared to 2D cell culture.

Application of 3D Cell Culture in Cell-Based Biosensors

Cell-based biosensors are rapidly turning into the building block of drug discovery process by enabling fast and cost effective alternate to large-scale animal testing. The sensing element, known as cultured cells, plays a critical part in detecting fluctuations in the local environment and transferring these changes to a signal transducer interfaced with the subject element. Although both 3D and 2D cell cultures are suitable for exploring cellular responses to drugs, biomaterials, and toxins, only 3D cell cultures exhibit an ordered structure that can closely resemble “in vivo” cell morphology, interactions, and diffusion barriers.


3D cell culture points to a revolutionary era in drug discovery and could serve as a bridge between animal testing and human clinical trials. Some of the under-development projects related to 3D cell culture include: kidney-on-a-chip, co-cultured 3D cardiomyocytes, a balancing factor for tumor spheroids, novel endpoints in 3D culture, and applications in 3D bioprinting.