In the drug discovery field, we typically work from high-throughput and low cost assays with poor in vivo relevancy to lower throughput and higher cost assays with improved relevancy. However, a translational gap has always existed between the efficacy of in vivo and in vitro studies when attempting to model physiology and drug response.
In vivo studies have the ability to model events in the larger context of whole organisms or organs. These larger models are invaluable when answering questions related to how a system works or reacts to a stimulus, but they are not without their own shortcomings. In vivo models are expensive (especially relative to in vitro studies), time consuming, and labor intensive. Additionally, results from animal models do not necessarily translate to human outcomes.
In vitro studies have traditionally been performed in two-dimensions (2D) and are employed when a relatively simple model is needed to answer a research question or to screen large numbers of compounds. In vitro models are most helpful when there is a need for a low cost, high throughput assay. 2D models are perfectly capable of answering many biologically relevant questions, however these models may have stark physiological differences compared with those of in vivo conditions. For example, cardiomyocytes cultured in two dimensions for drug toxicity studies have repeatedly failed to identify cardiac-drug interactions related to the hERG, an ion channel present on cardiomyocytes.
With the recent developments surrounding the technology, three-dimensional (3D) cell culture has been able to fill some of the gaps between traditional in vivo and in vitro studies. 3D models may incorporate human derived cells that are more similar to living tissue in terms of structural and functional properties and also provide the opportunity to combine multiple cell types for more physiologically relevant models. In the instance of the hERG, it has been shown that 3D cardiomyocyte models are better able to mimic in vivo conditions as compared to 2D models. While not as high throughput as 2D cell culture models, 3D models have the ability to provide low cost, high throughput assays relative to in vivo studies.
At Visikol, we harness both two- and three-dimensional cell culture methods to create novel, reproducible models for our Clients. Typically, clients provide Visikol with plates of compounds or antibodies and work with the Visikol team to identify a cell culture model that best meets their specific research needs.