Basic in vitro systems can be used to model and assess complex diseases, such as cancer. Recent advances in this field include the incorporation of multiple cell types and extracellular matrix proteins into three-dimensional (3D) models to recapitulate the structure, organization and functionality of live tissue in situ. Cells within such a 3D environment behave very differently from cells on two-dimensional (2D) substrates, as cell-matrix interactions trigger signalling pathways and cellular responses in 3D, which may not be observed in 2D. Thus, the use of 3D systems can be advantageous for the assessment of disease progression over 2D set-ups alone. Here, we highlight the current advantages and challenges of employing 3D systems in the study of cancer and provide an overview to guide the appropriate use of distinct models in cancer research.
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