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March 01, 2011 (Vol. 31, No. 5)

Growing Cells on 3-Dimensional Scaffolds

3D Biotek Seeks to Mimic In Vivo Cell Growth & Behavior Characteristics with Its Technology

  • Click Image To Enlarge +
    hMSCs proliferating on a 3D Insert: red: fibronectin, blue: DAPI

    Cells seeded onto standard tissue culture plates grow in two dimensions, whereas cells in the body grow three dimensionally. To better mimic in vivo cell growth and behavior, 3D Biotek develops and sells three-dimensional (3-D) scaffolds for cell culture work. Researchers are using the 3-D scaffolds for drug screening, tissue engineering, and stem cell research.

    While working at another biotechnology company, Qing Liu, Ph.D., searched for scaffolds for cell culture experiments but could not find satisfactory commercial products with well-controlled pore sizes and structures. “That’s how I got the idea to start 3D Biotek; I wanted to make our own,” says Dr. Liu, CEO. He started the company in 2007 with Wing Lau, Ph.D., COO.

    The three-year-old company is already attracting attention. The National Institute of Standards and Technology recently selected its 96-well compatible 3-D polycaprolactone (PCL) scaffolds as the standard reference tool for the development of 3-D scaffold-based products.

  • Advantages of 3-D Scaffolds

    Compared to two-dimensional (2-D) scaffolds, cells growing on 3-D scaffolds have significantly more viability, increased extracellular matrix secretion, and longer proliferation periods, Dr. Liu says. Because the scaffolds resemble the cell growth environment of the human body, cells growing on them give more physiologically relevant results, he adds. The tiny connected pores allow nutrients and waste products to be efficiently obtained and eliminated. The scaffold materials are transparent, so cells can be viewed with an inverted light microscope and fluorescent microscopy.

    The company offers two types of scaffolds made from either polystyrene, a polymer used in traditional cell culture plates, or PCL, a biodegradable polymer used in many FDA approved implants, drug delivery devices, and sutures. PCL is also widely used for tissue-engineering research involving bone/cartilage, tendon/ligament, liver, nerve, skin, and cardiovascular cells.

    All scaffolds are made from animal-free materials, and no cytotoxic organic solvents such as chloroform are used in fabricating them. The 3-D precision microfabrication technology reportedly guarantees uniform pore size throughout a scaffold, ranging from 200 to 500 microns. 3D Biotek’s microfabrication technology insures the reproducibility of the porous structures from batch to batch, Dr. Liu explains. The company also offers services to customers who want to fabricate biomedical devices with controlled internal porous structures.

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