Cell technology. The impact of the micro-environment on cell structure and Function.

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Biosciences


Tissue-specific architecture, mechanical and biochemical cues and cell-cell interactions are altered or lost under the simplified conditions of two-dimensional (2D) cell culture. Three-dimensional (3D) cell cultures attempt to mimic the in vivo situation by preserving the 3D integrity of individual cells and enabling cells to create their own niche in conjunction with the extracellular matrix. There is good evidence to show that 3D models can be used to study physiology where tissue-like function can be maintained. It is common practice however to expand populations of cells in 2D culture initially (particularly cell lines) prior to seeding such cells into 3D culture models. In such circumstances, cells are simultaneously: a) adapting to their new surroundings (2D to 3D growth transition); and b) being challenged and/or examined as part of the 3D cell culture assay (for example, a drug cytotoxicity test). This makes it difficult to decipher the precise outcome of the assay given that cells are concurrently exposed to two such major variables.
We hypothesise that cell populations initially primed within a 3D environment are more likely to adapt to their surroundings when seeded into a 3D culture model or transplanted in vivo (i.e. without the need for 2D to 3D transition). In this project we will collaborate with ECACC Culture Collections, an organization that supplies cell lines to researchers. The culture of popular cell lines that are grown routinely as adherent 2D monolayers, will be maintained in a novel system that enables maintenance of cells in 3D to adapt their phenotype to a more native 3D state. Specifically, the student will: 1) (0-15 mths) optimize methods to adapt cells to a 3D phenotype; 2) (6-21 mths) Characterize the cell phenotype by detailed examination of cell morphology, cytoskeletal structure, expression of integrin/caherins and focal adhesion proteins, expression of markers associated with 3D phenotype known to be lost in 2D culture; 3) (18-28 mths) conduct a 3-way comparison of 2D vs 3D vs in vivo (e.g. xenograft tumour tissue) examining key structural cell proteins known to be differentially regulated in 2D and 3D culture; 4) (24-30 mths) test the ability of the 2D vs 3D adapted cells to produce 3D structures when grown in alternative technologies designed to support 3D cell growth in vitro, e.g. scaffolds, and spheroid cultures; 5) (30-36 mths) Assess the ability of 2D & 3D adapted cells to form xenograft tumours when transplanted into immune deficient mice. The growth rate, size and tissue composition will be compared. The project will provide new information of how the growth environment plays an important role in the basic biology of cultured cells and their ability to form 3D tissues. The student will gain knowledge of cell science and training in cellular and molecular techniques with academic and industrial partners. It is anticipated that these new approaches for maintaining cells will be immediately beneficial to biologists looking to improve their in vitro model.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M015653/1 01/10/2015 14/03/2020
1798421 Studentship BB/M015653/1 01/10/2016 31/03/2021
Description ECACC Partnership 
Organisation European Collection of Cell Cultures (ECACC)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Sharing data, I help characterise cells provided to me by ECACC, and share my findings. I present there on occasion.
Collaborator Contribution They provide cells for me for free and occasional equipment too.
Impact Presentation seminar at PHE and poster presentations.
Start Year 2016