Cancer is a disease that has been described and treated from almost the beginnings of human history, albeit in a very limited way at the start. Ancient Egyptians used surgical methods to remove visible tumors, though they recognized the limitations of their methods and knew it was not a true cure. One of the earliest specific mentions of the disease comes from the ancient Greeks. Ever ones for wordplay and dramatic staging, the Greeks used the word onkos to describe both the large masses at the top of a tragedy mask used in plays and the large masses within the human body we now call tumors. Incidentally, this word has carried forward to the modern age through the name given to the study and treatment of cancer, oncology. While our understanding of medicine has moved well beyond that of Hippocrates’ four humors, cancer remains a steady and deadly companion of humanity. Today, cancer is the world’s second leading cause of death, beaten only by heart disease and sitting above respiratory diseases. In the United States alone, over 1.5 million people receive a new cancer diagnosis annually, and, according to the CDC, the numbers have been trending upwards in the last decade in the US, while trending downward globally.
Cancer treatment has advanced rapidly in recent history compared to its agelong burden on humanity. Breakthroughs in treatment occurred in the early part of the last century with the development of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. In that time, cancer has become one of the most widely researched diseases, with advances being made in areas of immunotherapy, hormonal therapy, and gene therapy. In recent decades, cancer treatment has moved towards more targeted therapies using a variety of measures including antibodies, bacteria, and small molecule drugs to attack specific biological processes in order to kill cancer cells. Development of these therapies and others has greatly been improved by the growing use of 3D cell cultured organoids and spheroids to improve research.
While 2D cell culture has long been the standard for cell research, 3D cell culture is growing in popularity. While cells are typically grown in a 2D monolayer in a culture dish, 3D cell culture uses two different formation strategies. The first uses biological or synthetic scaffolds to support the growth of organoids or spheroids, while the second method uses a scaffold-free method, instead suspending the cells as they grow. Most in vitro drug trials are performed using traditional 2D monolayer cell cultures, but this does have its limitations. Because of the monolayer of cells, the culture fails to provide an accurate representation of the 3D structure of tissues or the cellular interactions in vivo. While animals offer a more complex alternative to 2D cell culture, animal analogs do not always translate perfectly to the response of human tissues. Additionally, some cancer types are difficult to sustain in animal models. Three-dimensional cell cultures look to improve these issues by more accurately representing the properties and conditions of human cells in vivo.
The use of 3D spheroids in cancer research has several advantages to traditional cell culture techniques. Cellular properties like proliferation, morphology, gene expression, and drug response are all different in a 3D cell culture environment. While cell proliferation is somewhat uniform across a 2D monolayer, tumor spheroids respond to oxygen and nutrient gradients based on the size of the spheroid, giving researchers a better model of tumor growth and factors that influence growth. Similarly, the structure of tumor spheroids has offered insights in drug response. Tumor spheroids have been found to be hardier compared to their 2D counterparts due to many in vivo drug resistance mechanisms of tumors being carried over. The benefits of tumor spheroids can also have benefits in the growing realm of personalized medicine. Tumor spheroids can be formed from a patient’s own tumor cells, allowing for a treatment plan tailored to the patient’s particular situation.
While cancer research is a main application for 3D cell culture, many other applications play an important role in the 3D cell culture market. An in-depth look at this market and many others, including cell culture products, life science reagents, and chromatography consumables can be found in SDi’s Global Laboratory Consumables 2020 report. This report includes market size estimates as well as forecasts segmented by product type, region, end market, and application. Also included is information of vendor participation and market share.