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High throughput 3D cell culture assay

Scientist at Leiden University have developed a fast and robust 3-dimensional (3D) cell culture assay.

In this 3D assay, cell speroids are formed within minutes at precise pre-determined positions.This novel 3D cell culture assay is highly suited for high throughput drug screening, especially in cancer research.

The need for better in vitro screening technology is well known and documented in the field. The currently used 2D cell assays are fast and easy to perform, but lack predictive value. Among the various 3D culture platforms, 3D ECM-embedded cell spheroids most closely represent the in vivo tumor microenvironments. However, several technical hurdles preclude the use of such cultures in high content screening (HCS): i) spheroid creation is difficult and poorly reproducible: ii) it is restricted to certain cell types: and iii) spheroid location cannot be carefully controlled, which hampers automated imaging.

Scientists at Leiden University have developed an automated method to create 3D ECM-embedded cell spheroids that overcomes these limitations. Spheroid formation time is strongly reduced compared to other methods (minutes rather than days) and it can be applied to a broad range of cell types including cells which naturally do not form cell-cell contacts, endothelial cells, various cancer cell lines, and primary tumor cell suspensions. For High Content Screening, we are able to produce 1 spheroid per well in 384 well plates or up to 7 patterned spheroids per well in 96 well plates. Importantly, the spheroids have defined x-y-z spatial coordinates allowing automated confocal imaging and image analysis algorithms. A successful proof-of-principle chemical screen was done on breast cancer spheroids identifying compounds affecting cancer cell invasion/migration.

Key benefits

  • Fast
  • Robust
  • Exact location of spheroids is known
  • Automated
  • Proof-of-principle has been established


  • Cell culturing
  • Tissue engineering
  • High Throughput drug screening
  • Cancer / tumour research

Development stage

Proof-of-principle has been established 

Luris reference number


Patent status

A PCT application has been filed

Data available on request

Additional non-confidential data is available on request

Further information

Frits Fallaux Knowledge Broker (LU) +31-71-527 2517