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Scaffold-based and Scaffold Free: The Most Popular and Advanced 3D Cell Culture Techniques

Publish Date: February 26, 2020

3D cell culture techniques have gained increasing interest in tissue engineering and drug discovery owing to their evident advantages in providing more predictive data for in vivo and in vitro experiments. The advancement and progression in the application of 3D cell culture techniques is boosting the growth of global 3D cell culture market.

As per a research study, cell culture techniques are pervasive in the areas of developmental biology, regenerative medicine, protein production, and drug discovery. Cells have been always cultured in 2D, since the cell culture techniques were introduced to the world. Cells in the biological environment have constant interaction with the extracellular matrix that regulates the complex biological functions such as apoptosis, cellular migration, receptor expression, and transcriptional regulation. When cells are grown in 2D conditions, the experimental in-vitro data cannot be decoded into clinical trials and the complicated cellular signals between the matrix and cells cannot be reproduced. But 3D cell cultures address this challenge and assists as a better model that closely represents in-vivo physiological conditions.

According to several studies that compared the 3D environment to its 2D counterpart, it has been reported that there is a huge difference in gene and protein expression profiles of the cells grown. Also, the expression profiles in 3D culture conditions are believed to be more physiologically relevant than the conditions in 2D cell culture.

Advantages of 3D Cell Culture

  • When grown in 3D, stem cells exhibit notably higher differentiation potential.
  • The studies related to drug safety and efficacy are relatively easier to perform in 3D cultures. It reduces the time spent by pharmaceutical companies in drug discovery.
  • 3D cell cultures provide better data in the prediction of drug resistance.
  • With 3D models, the viral pathogenesis including pathogen-host interactions, infection, and viral growth can be studied with minimized hazard levels.

Outline of 3D Cell Culture Techniques

As per the Research analyst review, the choice of techniques in 3D cell culture should depend on several parameters, including the nature of the cells or the final aim of the study. It’s vital to evaluate these parameters before electing the most relevant 3D cell culture technique.

Broadly, 3D cell culture techniques are categorized as Scaffold-based and Scaffold-free techniques.

Scaffold-based Techniques

Cells are grown in the presence of a support in scaffold-based techniques. There are two major types of support that can be used:

  • Polymeric hard material-based support: The cells are cultivated in presence of sponge-like structures or fibers. As these cells are non-plated on a flat surface, they recover a more physiological shape. Materials used for these supports can be biodegradable tools such as polycaprolactone and polystyrene.
  • Hydrogel-based support: The hydrogels are polymer networks that are largely swollen with water. Cells can be simply coated at the surface or can be rooted in these hydrogels. Hydrogels can be classified into several categories with distinct properties depending on the nature of the polymer. The categories include ECM protein-based hydrogels, synthetic hydrogels, and natural hydrogels.

Scaffold Free Platform Techniques

In scaffold-free technique, it allows the cell to self-assemble to form spheroids, which are the non-adherent cell aggregates. Spheroids secrets their own extracellular matrix and displays differential nutrient availability by mimicking the solid tissues. Grown via non scaffold-based techniques, spheroids are consistent in shape and size, and are also better in-vitro cellular models for high-throughput screening.

The Market Scenario

At present, the global 3D cell culture market is rapidly developing and is all set grow positively in the near future. According to the new Research Dive report, the 3D cell culture market is anticipated to generate a revenue of $12, 638.8 million, and will grow at a CAGR of 29.4% from 2019 to 2026. This is majorly due to the growing awareness of oncological diseases such as skin cancer, lung cancer, and others all across the globe. The key players of the market are adopting several strategies such as mergers & acquisitions and product development to stand strong in the global market. For instance, Lonza is highly investing in highly advanced technologies of allogeneic manufacturing in 3D bioreactors. Other market players include Thermo Fisher Scientific, Corning Incorporated, 3D Biotek, TissUse GmbH, Hµrel Corporation, QGel SA, Advanced BioMatrix, SynVivo, and Greiner Bio-One International.


Princy A. J

Princy holds a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from the prestigious Tamil Nadu Dr. M.G.R. University at Chennai, India. After a successful academic record, she pursued her passion for writing. A thorough professional and enthusiastic writer, she enjoys writing on various categories and advancements in the global industries. She plays an instrumental role in writing about current updates, news, blogs, and trends.