As a company focused on three-dimensional tissue imaging, digital pathology and advanced in vitro models, we have been very focused on developments in the 3D cell culture space (e.g. organoid, microtissue, spheroid). These models are being rapidly adopted by pharmaceutical companies as well as academic researchers to improve the in vivo relevancy of their in vitro assays. However, one of the challenges with 3D cell culture models and any new scientific tool is building consensus around the validity of the tool. In the case of 3D cell culture models, this distills down to demonstrating that a model has similar features to an organ of interest and more importantly that it has similar functionality.
One of the challenges with building consensus around 3D cell culture models is that currently they are far from miniaturized versions of organs in a plate and concessions need to be made in regard to the complexity of the model. The reason for this is that while increased complexity might better replicate in vivo functionality/characteristics, it dramatically increases cost. For many highly complex organ or body on a chip models the cost can actually be higher than humanized mouse models which defeats the purpose of the in vitro model in the first place.
Therefore, in the 3D cell culture space researchers are currently working to build consensus around which models are best for a specific application and use case such as an ultra-high throughput liver toxicity screen vs. a highly focused NASH study. It would be ideal to have the same model for all such assays, but there is a delicate balance between increasing in vivo relevancy and cost/throughput.
For these reasons, we are particularly focused on working with researchers to develop generally accepted open source models for use in research. Such consensus in the field will allow researchers with widely different research thrusts to compare their findings in the same context.
We have recently joined with multiple companies including Genentech, Millipore Sigma and BioTek to sponsor the NIH’s retina organoid competition. The focus of this competition is to develop an organotypic retina model for use in drug discovery assays and to widely distribute this know-how and technical expertise. As a company, we have worked on several in vivo projects focused on retina vasculature imaging and are keenly focused on helping with the development of models in this space. Through this competition, we are providing high content screening and confocal imaging services at cost to competition participants to assist with the characterization of their models. All contestants need to demonstrate the organotypic features of their model and we are leveraging our Visikol HISTO-M tissue clearing approach along with confocal imaging and digital image analysis to quantitatively asses these complex models in 3D.