The technology, developed and patented by scientists at Durham University, is a plastic scaffold which allows cells to be grown in a more realistic three-dimensional (3D) form compared to the traditional flat surface of a Petri dish.
Evidence gathered by the research team shows that the technology is a cheap and straightforward way of cultivating cells in 3D. Using it could lead to more successful drug development programmes and a reduction in unnecessary tests on animals.
A large proportion of drugs fail at the testing stage, costing industry millions of pounds in research and development costs and failed drugs trials every year. At the moment, most drugs in development are first tested on cells grown in two-dimensions (2D) in standard laboratory equipment such as Petri dishes or flasks but cells in the human body form tissues and grow in more complex, three-dimensional ways.
The new study tested the toxic effect of a cancer drug called Methotrexate (MTX) on liver cells grown in three and two dimensions. Liver cells are frequently used in the drug development industry to test the toxicity of drugs and MTX is known to cause liver damage at high doses.
Tests showed that the structure and properties of the cells grown using the 3D scaffold were most similar to liver cells found in the human body, compared with the 2D cells which appeared “disorganised” when viewed under the microscope.
When subject to doses of MTX, cells grown in 2D died at very low concentrations, whereas 3D cells grown using the scaffold were far more robust and more accurately reflected the behaviour of cells in the human body when subjected to similar doses of the drug.
The technology has potential to be used to grow human stem cells for drug development. Their use may reduce the need for the tests on animals that are usually the next step before progressing to clinical trials in humans.
COMPAMED.de; Source: Durham University