Cell culture is the foundation of high throughput screening during drug development.  However, it is well known that there is a big and precarious transition from cell models to in vivo understanding and application.  Sophisticated 3D cell culture models are making big steps in bridging the gap and providing valuable intermediates for predicting drug response and toxicity.

Cerebral organoid created by 3D cell culture. Image credit: Nature 501:373–379

Cerebral organoid
Image credit: Nature 501:373–379

Advantages of 3D cell culture models

Traditional 2D cell culture inherently contains several limitations such as lacking complex cell-cell interactions.  3D cell cultures more closely mimic tumor structure and response to therapeutics.1  This is due to many factors including:

  • the presence of complex cell-cell communication networks.
  • the structure of the culture creates a differential response and interaction with the culture environment such as oxygenation levels or access the drug treatment.

3D cell aggregates or spheroids have been proposed as a more relevant model for screening potential therapeutics, especially with respect to tumor treatments.  Drug screening platforms using 3D cell culture may be more appropriate for demonstrating efficacy prior to in vivo trials.  Assay Depot can connect researchers with 3D culture screening capabilities.

Models of organs in culture

While cell spheroids and aggregates provide a gross approximation of complex systems, the rise of in vitro tissue models is a more advanced step toward understanding tissue systems.  The ability to generate complicated organoids in culture is a result of the increased knowledge in generating and re-programming iPSCs (induced pluripotent stem cells).1  From this, models of intestine, thyroid, and retina have been developed.  A recent paper in Nature described cerebral organoids, small recapitulations of brains that demonstrate key features of brain tissue. 2 The in vitro organoids are being used to understand development of diseases and eventually may be used to develop treatments.


1.  Bershteyn, M. and Kriegstein, A.R. (2013) Cerebral organoids in a dish: Progress and perspectives. Cell 155(1):19-20

2.  Lancaster, M. A., Renner, M., Martin, C., Wenzel, D., Bicknell, L.S., Hurles, M.E., Homfray, T., Penninger, J.M., Jackson, A.P., and Knoblich, J.A. (2013) Cerebral organoids model human brain development and microcephaly. Nature 501:373–379