Corning Life Sciences Vice President Takes a Look at 3D Cell Culture

Life Sciences VP Takes a Look at 3D Cell Culture

Dr. Richard Eglen heading up thought leadership, research community engagement

July 2017

Imagine doctors finding the best treatment for a patient’s illness by testing different options on that person’s own cells – only all outside of their body. Or researchers finding the dangerous side effects of a new drug long before it goes to trial on animal or human subjects – testing thousands of options at once to find the safest and most effective solution. These are some of the promising benefits of 3D cell culture and they have researchers and academia across the life sciences industry eager to learn more.

What is 3D cell culture? In simple terms, it’s a way to do research in an environment that is more similar to the environment in the human body. Instead of doing research with cells that are grown on a flat, 2D surface (picture your high school lab’s petri dishes), scientists can grow these cells in a 3D structure, similar to how they are growing in your body. It provides a much closer simulation than anything offered through other techniques, including non-human test subjects. A growing collection of positive data coming from 3D cell culture is building tremendous interest right now. And that is driving even more promising results as more researchers transition to this technique.

As this wave keeps building, Corning is sharing the knowledge and experience that come from three decades pioneering this field. Dr. Richard Eglen, vice president and general manager of Corning Life Sciences, is heading up outreach as we work closely with customers and engage research communities. He is co-authoring papers and just wrapped up a tour around the world. Below, Dr. Eglen shares some insight on why 3D cell culture is making big headlines today.

Dr. Eglen, could you tell us more about why 3D cell culture is so hot?

I’d give you two main reasons. First, there has been an emergence of new data, particularly from cancer research, showing that culturing cells in 3D mimics cells in the body better than culturing them in 2D. Adding to this, new technological developments have made it easier to work in 3D. It went from very difficult protocols to something the average lab researcher can employ. So ease of use plus increasing recognition that the science is providing us with better information have made this a major trend. 

Where does the work you’re doing fit into Corning’s strategy?

In terms of our Strategy and Capital Allocation Framework, this really starts to broaden the use of Corning Life Sciences’ vessels in research. It also helps us grow our business in general; as people doing 3D cell culture become aware of what Corning is doing in that space, they get interested in what we’re doing in other areas.

So this provides pull through for other Life Sciences products, growing the base business and providing a fast growing area for Corning, which contributes to our growth plan.

Since I was trained as cell biologist and I’ve stayed in that area throughout my scientific and management career, this is an area where I felt I could personally contribute my expertise.

What was the feedback from your tour and promotions?

This is an area that people are very excited about. And there is this convergence of academic interest and industry interest. The drug industry is enthusiastically recognizing that there may be new ways to discover drugs – particularly to treat things like cancer, but also addressing other diseases, such as dementia. And academic researchers are getting better insight into fundamental diseases. For instance, they’re gaining a better understanding of the causes of cancer and how you can potentially treat this disease. Stem cell researchers are also interested because this provides a different way to grow stem cells and potentially use those as therapeutic agents.

They are now generating more and more convincing data so that they’re not only finding new compounds for potential medicine, but they’re going back and looking at previous results to see what they missed in other compounds as well.

The other thing that I’m hearing is that they’re interested in all the technology that Corning has developed in this area, and what more we can develop. They appreciate the fact that Corning has a leadership position in this space and the experience to truly understand their needs in the lab. 

How is Corning a thought leader in this space?

We continue to innovate in this area. When we talk about our products, we have vessels, surfaces, and media – you have to have those three legs of the stool optimized to do modern 3D cell culture. Corning has a wide range of products in all three categories, and we’re well positioned to continue leadership in all three as well.

Further, because we have a strong technical group here in Life Sciences, we’re finding that customers are as interested in our scientists working with them as they are in simply buying our products. So our customer experience people, as well as our B.S.- and Ph.D.-level field scientists, can go into other companies and directly help these organizations. Particularly with big blue-chip pharmaceutical companies, our scientists help them design their experiments and develop their technologies.

And because this is an area where we’re recognized as a thought leader, people are looking to Corning, saying you can guide us to what’s coming next. How should we move into this area? Can you help us with the lab protocols? What should we focus on? So there is a strong market interest in what Corning can produce. 

What is Corning’s track record in this area?

The beginning in 3D culture was the development of a surface coating called Corning Matrigel® matrix. Matrigel is the gold standard. It provides a surface in which cells grow in 3D. It’s coming up to a 30-year anniversary this year, in fact.

However, while Matrigel enabled people using this coating to move into 3D culture, experiments were difficult to do. It was easier to grow cells on a flat 2D surface. But, while they grow easily in 2D, they don’t grow in a form that resembles how cells grow in the body, so researchers worry about the value of the data they receive.

And so to address these limitations, we have developed systems that make it easy for general researchers to transition to 3D cell culture. In the last five years, as we’ve developed technologies that enabled them to do their work, we’ve seen a real pick up in the field. So Corning saw the wave coming and we managed to develop products that went up that wave. 

What is your own take on recent developments in 3D cell culture?

As I travel throughout the world, giving seminars and talking to people, what I’m most enthusiastic about is that the products we are bringing to the market are getting a very strong customer reception. They see the promise and potential for scientific discovery, and that’s why I’m in this business to begin with!