As a leading provider of 3D cell culture assays and advanced in vitro biology, we are commonly asked about the business case for 3D vs 2D cell culture. Now we must first start off by saying that 3D cell culture models are not a complete replacement for 2D cell culture models and 2D cell culture models will always have a place in the drug discovery continuum. The reason for this is that all models have their own unique advantages and disadvantages. While 3D cell culture models better recapitulate the in vivo micro-environment when compared to 2D cell culture models, this might not have any impact on the outcome of your assay. Therefore, you could needlessly spend more money on a more complicated in vitro assay when it is not required.
Where 3D cell culture models provide extreme value is where they do improve the accuracy of your assays results and reduce the transnational gap between in vitro and in vivo studies. However, it is very important to note that there are also lots of different types of 3D cell culture biology and one type of model might not be best for all research applications. For example, a very simple liver toxicity question might only require inexpensive HepG2 spheroids wherein a more complex metabolic question might require primary human hepatocytes from multiple pooled donors co-cultured with non-parenchymal cells.
The benefits of a 3D cell culture model will depend on the specific research question that is being asked. In the below 5 minute video we give an overview of a case study where a small molecule compound screen using an ER positive breast cancer cell line from Cellaria (Wood Cell Line) was conducted in both 2D and 3D. The results clearly demonstrate the benefits of 3D cell culture for this application and how 2D cell culture would have provide misleading conclusions.