Methods for culturing mammalian cells ex vivo are increasingly needed to study cell and tissue physiology and to grow replacement tissue for regenerative medicine. Two-dimensional culture has been the paradigm for typical in vitro cell culture; however, it has been demonstrated that cells behave more natively when cultured in three-dimensional environments. Permissive, synthetic hydrogels and promoting, natural hydrogels have become popular as three-dimensional cell culture platforms; yet, both of these systems possess limitations. In this perspective, we discuss the use of both synthetic and natural hydrogels as scaffolds for three-dimensional cell culture as well as synthetic hydrogels that incorporate sophisticated biochemical and mechanical cues as mimics of the native extracellular matrix. Ultimately, advances in synthetic-biologic hydrogel hybrids are needed to provide robust platforms for investigating cell physiology and fabricating tissue outside of the organism.
(c) 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.