Conventional techniques and workflows for 3D cell culture systems have always been labor intensive and time consuming. Worse, they have often delivered inconsistent results. Fortunately, better techniques and workflows are being developed, much to the relief of scientists who have struggled with 3D cell culture systems. These scientists never gave up because 3D models—whether cultured or bioprinted—promised to replicate in vivo human physiology more closely than 2D models.

Many other scientists avoided 3D models and adopted a wait-and-see approach. And now, finally, there is much that is new in 3D cell culturing. But how many scientists are aware of it? “They often don’t know what tools to use or where to start,” observes Kim Titus, director of global business operations at Corning Life Sciences. “This is normal with new models or technologies.”

Removing barriers to entry

Corning has developed multiple tools and technologies to lower barriers to entry and accelerate the adoption of 3D cell culture. The company’s approach is straightforward: improve consistency across applications and reduce the need for manual interventions.

One of the company’s priorities is to facilitate bioprinting applications. “When bioprinting began making a comeback,” Titus says, “we launched a piece of equipment that provided the necessary functionality. In addition, it had to be affordable for academics and researchers, it had to fit on the benchtop, and it had to be so easy to use that a laboratory wouldn’t need a specialist to run it.”

The instrument is called the Matribot® bioprinter. Because it incorporates a cooling syringe printhead, it can work with Matrigel® matrix, a solubilized basement membrane preparation. The Matribot bioprinter dispenses and bioprints 3D droplets or droplet arrays of Matrigel matrix for organoid applications and other layered geometrics to emulate in vivo environments.

Another priority at Corning, a company that has developed cell culture and 3D cell culture products for decades, is to help its customers scale their research, automate their processes, and pursue their goals more efficiently. “Existing solutions like Matrigel matrix and Transwell® permeable supports have enabled organoid and tissue models,” Titus notes, “and newer solutions like the Spheroid and Elplasia® plates are supporting spheroid models.”

In its quest to develop better, more efficient 3D cell culture and bioprinter solutions, Corning also remains mindful of real-world constraints. “It’s great to deliver more in vivo–like solutions, but if they’re not cost effective and space effective, they won’t work for scientists,” Titus remarks. “We try to find efficiencies from research all the way to production.”

To that end, Corning has introduced products that support efficiency and yield. These products include the Matribot bioprinter and the Corning® Cell Counter. They are compatibility with various spheroid and organoid plates, and they offer automated or semiautomated functionality to support high-throughput screening.

As the scale-up of advanced therapies accelerates, many scientists want to keep their cell cultures on efficient adherent platforms that could produce billions of cells at scale. To assist, Corning recently launched the Ascent® Fixed Bed Bioreactor (FBR) system. “It essentially eliminates the need for researchers to transfer their adherent cells into a suspension culture by delivering high yield, efficiency, flexibility, and cell viability within a scalable adherent cell culture system,” Titus says. The Ascent FBR system is designed to scale from a surface area of 1 square meter to 1,000 square meters without transferring to a different technology.

Solving customers’ problems

Titus declares that Corning’s place in the life sciences industry is defined by its closeness to its customers and the innovation it applies to their challenges. “Our goal is to do more than just to manufacture plastic or glass,” she stresses. “We really want to solve customers’ problems.”

She illustrates this point by recalling just one of the ways the company simplified 3D cell culture: “There was a point customers knew they needed to make uniform spheroids but lacked the tools to do it. We provided a spheroid plate that solved that problem.”

The development of the spheroid plate was the culmination of Corning’s understanding of plastic, product geometry, optics, and surface chemistry. “We do more than manage plastic,” Titus emphasizes. “We understand what cells like and can handle, what they don’t like, and how to repel attraction without killing cells, and we do a lot of surface modifications to create the optimal conditions.”

Corning is also committed to learning what customers like and don’t like about applications in general, and about the company’s products in particular. “We’re really just looking for what’s slowing our customers down,” Titus explains, “and we’re helping them reach their goals faster.”

Accordingly, the slogan Corning uses for its Matribot bioprinting platform is “automate to accelerate.” The slogan is apt, Corning argues, because the platform can dispense a variety of materials into a variety of vessels including multiwell plates, Petri dishes, and microplates with high precision and control; is compatible with standard laboratory equipment; incorporates both a cooling syringe printhead, a heated printbed, and a UV curing system; is compact and easy to clean; offers automatic or contact-free manual calibration; is compatible with diverse file formats and operating systems; and can optimize several operational parameters via the company’s own DNA Studio software.

Anticipating future challenges

When Titus joined Corning more than 30 years ago, the company was focused on liquid handling and subcultures. It had made pipettes for decades and gradually introduced increasingly sophisticated tools, including Transwell permeable supports and HyperFlask® and HyperStack® vessels. The constant, she says, has been continual innovation that results from proximity to the customers.

“We want to ensure we are enabling the adoption of more complex and advanced 3D cell culture models that can have a tremendous impact on so many critical areas, from cancer research to drug discovery and precision medicine,” Titus says. “Much of this will be extending our work to bring more automated/semiautomated solutions to the laboratory, and to improve consistency while reducing the number of manual steps. On the cell and gene therapy side, we’re focused on working with customers to help understand pain points in the scale-up/scale-out process and bringing together strategies and solutions to support their cell and gene therapy goals at the quality and scale needed, while working to reduce costs.”

While acknowledging that cell culture is branching into multiple areas, Titus says, “Corning Life Sciences will always be a cell culture company and will always support our cell culture customers.”