2D culturing methods are not fully representative of real tissues, so they provide a partial, yet incomplete look at real tissue function. 3D cell cultures, on the other hand, are an attempt to actually grow those tissues directly, with more of the complexity and experimental accuracy that implies.
A 3D culture better represents the physical and biochemical environment that viruses encounter in vivo. This has led to a wide array of new insights into the infectious action of pathogens, ranging from toxoplasma gondii to mycobacterium tuberculosis.
A recent study in Nature looked at the utility of 3D cell culture models mimicking the human bronchial and small airway cells in studying infectious respiratory disease. Their study found that 3D culturing methods efficiently produced biologically relevant results (host-pathogen interactions in respiratory tissues) that would have been difficult and time-consuming to produce using only existing 2D models.
Hubrecht Organoid Technology (HUB) in the Netherlands is currently using organoid models to study infectious diseases, including the creation of human lung organoids to study the effects of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) on this system.
In general, as one recent study published by the American Society for Microbiology put it, 3D cell culture models "provide a more physiologically relevant and predictive framework for investigating infectious disease mechanisms and antimicrobial therapies." That means faster identification of compounds that could counteract or interfere with disease mechanisms and, through that, faster development of cures for infectious disease.
Working with cell cultures in three dimensions requires specialized tools, which are more readily available than ever. These tools include Corning® Matrigel® matrix, which mimics the extracellular matrix to provide both physical scaffolding and relevant growth factors, and newer technologies such as ultra-low attachment surfaces, which enable scaffold-free culture development.
High-throughput and high capacity technologies for generation and assaying of 3D spheroid cultures are examples of how the accuracy of studies on 3D cellular structures could soon meet the high throughput of legacy 2D technologies.