3D Cell Culture Applications and Bioprinting Change Cancer Research | 3D Cell Culture | Corning

Researchers have routinely relied upon 2D cell culture and animal models to study the mechanisms underlying human diseases,such as cancer. These models have led to major discoveries and improved understanding of many of these diseases, but they have their limitations. A two-dimensional cell culture model cannot precisely capture complex in vivo tumor behavior.

With the advent of 3D cell culture applications and 3D bioprinting, cancer research is changing. Now, complex aspects of cancer like metastasis can be modeled and studied, and the efficacy and toxicity of drugs can be tested more realistically and rapidly. Cells grown in 3D conditions more accurately mimic in vivo cellular responses, according to a recent study in Annals of Biomedical Engineering.

How Does 3D Bioprinting Work?

3D tissue-engineered constructs, or TECS, have been developed as in vitro models for discovering underlying molecular pathways. Researchers use additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, to create precision 3D structures on a micro scale, generating TECs with the specific properties they want to study. They utilize spheroid cell cultures to create tumor cells that form hollow cores, similar to how tumor cells behave in the human body.

3D cell printing technology uses different types of cells in the form of "bio-inks" to fabricate tissues. These bio-inks are then printed into a scaffold or hydrogel, or into permeable supports such as Transwell® Permeable Supports, which enable the tissues to anchor. Inkjet, extrusion, and laser-assisted printing are all methods of depositing biological materials into 3D constructs, according to a study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

3D Bioprinting and Cancer Research

Bioprinting allows the creation of specific types of tissues and scaffolds for organs. For example, Organovo researchers use 3D bioprinting to develop liver tissue for use in toxicology testing. In cancer research, in vitro 3D tumor models are frequently used for screening of therapeutic drugs, according to a study in Nature Reviews: Materials. Bioprinting technology can be used to create "multicellular, controllable and reproducible tumor models," the authors write. For example, a bioprinted ovarian tumor model has been used in high-throughput screening.

A study in Biofabrication used bioprinting to create a cervical cancer model from HeLa cells encapsulated in a hydrogel mixture. The cells proliferated in the extracellular matrix. When a chemotherapy drug was applied to both a 2D HeLa cell culture and the 3D culture, the 3D culture showed resistance to the chemotherapy.

3D Bioprinting Processes Differ

Different 3D bioprinting approaches have investigated specific aspects of tumor biology and drug testing. 3D printed matrices are "ideal platforms for the creation of 3D tumor spheroids possessing hypoxic cores," according to a study in Current Opinion in Biomedical Engineering.

Mono-culture models of cell migration have been successfully used to study aggressive proliferation and migration. A substrate with a customizable stiffness was used to study migration of HeLa cells, demonstrating that migration was a function of stiffness and cell type.

In other studies, co-culture models are being used to investigate how tumor cells interact with auxiliary cell types like stromal cells and macrophages. Stereolithography and fused filament fabrication techniques enable the 3D modeling of cancer cell metastasis to bone tissue. Scaffolds created by fused filament fabrication or stereolithography generate small hexagonal or square pore patterns to create bone-like microenvironments.

In recent years, 3D cell culture applications have developed rapidly, allowing for the creation of more realistic biochemical microenvironments in which to study cancer and its response to therapy. As techniques and systems continue to evolve and develop, so too will our understanding of cancer and the selection of new therapeutic targets for chemotherapies.