The study, published in the May issue of Tissue Engineering, adds to a growing body of research showing that culture techniques can significantly affect cell growth and function. This research shows that cells grown in a laboratory in 3-D environments, not in flat petri dishes, are more like cells grown in the ultimate 3-D environment ?the human body.
"More and more, we're seeing evidence that cells cultured in three dimensions look and behave more like cells in your body," said Diane Hoffman-Kim, the Brown bioengineer who spearheaded the new study, "so culture method is critical. If you want to better understand how the human body behaves or how new drugs might fight disease, 3-D may be a better bet."
For more than 100 years, scientists have grown human cells in flat dishes. In these 2-D glass incubators, better known as petri dishes, cells stick to the bottom and spread out as they multiply. But in the body, cells don't grow that way. They are suspended in fluids and gels and surrounded by other cells. And these cells aren't stuck; they move.
As a result, some scientists suspect that hothouse cells do not behave like in vivo varieties. This means that the critical functions scientists are trying to understand by studying these cells ?from the proliferation of cancer to the bacterial assault by antibiotics ?may play out differently. Studies indeed show differences in behavior between cells cultured in 2-D and in 3-D. Cells cultured in 3-D, for example, grow faster.
Hoffman-Kim, an assistant professor of medical science and engineering at Brown, wants to find a way to repair damaged nerve tissue. To get there, she needs to grow nerve cells that will flourish when plac