Building on NASA Research
“We are taking 3-D cell cultures to the next step,” said Bill Anderson, president and CEO of Synthecon.
Approximately two decades ago, the Johnson Space Center at NASA developed a new type of cell culture system based on the principle of clinorotation, in which slow rotation of a fluid-filled culture vessel leads to the nullification of the gravitational forces. This low-shear, low-turbulence growth environment allows cells to adopt phenotypes that are normally not observed during growth in 2-D cultures. One of these phenotypes is the creation of 3-D structures that resemble in vivo tissues.
Synthecon further designed and patented several innovations to this application and is currently marketing a rotating wall vessel bioreactor, known as Rotary Cell Culture System (RCCS), which allows users to grow dynamic cultures in which the matrix, suspended in a fluid bath, promotes 3-D cell growth.
By using the rotating wall vessel bioreactor, investigators have shown that Huh7 hepatoma cells grown in 3-D rotating wall vessels are morphologically and functionally different than the same cells grown in 2-D cultures. These cells became permissive for hepatitis C virus infection, which allowed investigation of the infection process.
Additionally, RCCS technology enables several cell types to be co-cultured to generate relevant 3-D tissues. “The ability to co-culture multiple cell types to form physiologically relevant tissues really sets Synthecon apart from the rest of the 3-D technologies in the field that only support 3-D monoculture on matrix,” emphasized Anderson.
While 3-D cell culture promises to re-shape the way we approach many questions in life sciences, it is still a technology under continuous development and improvement.
“Three-dimensional is not the end of the challenge,” explained Dr. Bissell. “Everything is context-dependent and tissue- and organ-specific. We need 3-D models for every organ, and these will be different in terms of their requirements and their complexity. We need to understand the physiology and the biology of each organ we are working on, and we cannot be answering universal questions with one model system.”
The need to use the most relevant and most informative in vitro models for each individual scientific question is a priority in all fields of investigation. Three-dimensional cell culture will catalyze significant changes in many areas and will pave the tortuous but rewarding road of scientific discovery, which still harbors so much unknown. As Lewis Thomas eloquently wrote a few decades ago, “Biological science…is under way, but only just under way.”