Introduction: Developing in vitro models for studying cell biology and cell physiology is of great importance to the fields of biotechnology, cancer research, drug discovery, toxicity testing, as well as the emerging fields of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Traditional two-dimensional (2D) methods of mammalian cell culture have several limitations and it is increasingly recognized that cells grown in a three-dimensional (3D) environment more closely represent normal cellular function due to the increased cell-to-cell interactions, and by mimicking the in vivo architecture of natural organs and tissues.
Areas covered: In this review, we discuss the methods to form 3D multi-cellular spheroids, the advantages and limitations of these methods, and assays used to characterize the function of spheroids. The use of spheroids has led to many advances in basic cell sciences, including understanding cancer cell interactions, creating models for drug discovery and cancer metastasis, and they are being investigated as basic units for engineering tissue constructs. As so, this review will focus on contributions made to each of these fields using spheroid models.
Expert opinion: Multi-cellular spheroids are rich in biological content and mimic better the in vivo environment than 2D cell culture. New technologies to form and analyze spheroids are rapidly increasing their adoption and expanding their applications.