Moving from cell monolayers to three-dimensional (3D) cultures is motivated by the need to work with cellular models that mimic the functions of living tissues. Essential cellular functions that are present in tissues are missed by 'petri dish'-based cell cultures. This limits their potential to predict the cellular responses of real organisms. However, establishing 3D cultures as a mainstream approach requires the development of standard protocols, new cell lines and quantitative analysis methods, which include well-suited three-dimensional imaging techniques. We believe that 3D cultures will have a strong impact on drug screening and will also decrease the use of laboratory animals, for example, in the context of toxicity assays.