In vitro cell culture has formed the backbone of pre-clinical research for over 50 years. It provides easy to use, mechanistic models for high throughput experimentation, delivering results in a practically useful timeframe. Many of the techniques for cultivating cells in the laboratory however, have remained unchanged for decades.
Recently, concerns over scientific reproducibility in clinical research and the biological relevance of in vitro models used in in the drug discovery workflow have been raised in the scientific and non-scientific press. Novel three dimensional (3D) cell culture and systems to control the cellular micro-environment together with cutting-edge cellular reprogramming and gene editing techniques offer the potential to more accurately recapitulate human biology and revolutionise the field. Incorporating these novel systems into new and pre-existing scientific workflows, however, presents conceptual and operational challenges to most researchers in terms of the choice of system and in its experimental deployment.
On June 8th 2018 at the Coin Street Conference Centre in London, ECACC held a workshop entitled “Advanced Cell Culture: A Practical Approach”. The objectives of the event were to: provide a forum relevant to health protection, clinical, academic and pharma research scientists where industry and academic experts and suppliers of state of the art equipment and reagents could present their work on developing models and systems that recapitulate human biology in the lab and to promote and enable knowledge sharing and development of best practice across the field in the modelling of human biology in the laboratory, increasing the physiological relevance of experiments and drug discovery processes whilst reducing reliance on animal models.
The event included oral and poster presentations and a busy, well attended supplier exhibition, providing plenty of networking opportunities and a focussed forum for the delegates to evaluate the advantages of the various options under expert guidance and become better equipped to select the appropriate tools and strategic approach to answer their own individual biological questions.
The day, chaired and introduced by ECACC’s Jim Cooper, commenced with a keynote presentation from Professor Stefan Przyborski from Durham University, who described the landscape of advanced cell culture technologies before a series of focussed presentations from:
• Dr Ann Kramer, The Electrospinning Company Ltd: Electrospun Scaffolds
• Fredrique Tholozan, Reprocell: Alvetex 3D Technology
• Dr Agata Goreka, InSphero AG: 3D Microtissue Technology
• Dr Mike Kerins, Cambridge Bioscience: AVATAR Cell Control System
• Luke Johnston, University of Liverpool: 3D Intestinal Organoids
• Dr Bhumika Singh, Kirkstall Ltd: Microphysiological Systems
• Dr Hassan Rashidi, University College London: Hepatospheres from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells
• Maja Petkovic, Amsbio Ltd: CRISPR CAS9 Gene Editing of Advanced Cell Culture Systems.
The event highlighted the huge potential for commercial off the shelf 3D culture systems that allow reproducibility and physiological relevance. It was however, evident that advanced 3D cell culture needs intelligent planning and prior knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of the tissue in under investigation. Once developed 3D models need to be validated in terms of structure and function and the critical role of the cellular micro-environment in cellular differentiation was highlighted.
The successful and enjoyable proceedings ended with a summary of the key points presented and of the formal and informal discussions throughout the day, which identified stumbling blocks to the widespread adoption of these novel technologies. These included the lack of depth and breadth of publications in the literature, concerns about the cost of change to and validation of the novel technologies, lack of technical expertise and the challenges of imaging complex 3D cultures.
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