ScienceDaily (Mar. 16, 2010) — The film "Avatar" isn't the only 3-D blockbuster making a splash this winter. A team of scientists from Houston's Texas Medical Center has unveiled a new technique for growing 3-D cell cultures, a technological leap from the flat petri dish that could save millions of dollars in drug-testing costs.

The research is reported in Nature Nanotechnology.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases...0315162056.htm

The 3-D technique is easy enough for most labs to set up immediately. It uses magnetic forces to levitate cells while they divide and grow. Compared with cell cultures grown on flat surfaces, the 3-D cell cultures tend to form tissues that more closely resemble those inside the body.

"There's a big push right now to find ways to grow cells in 3-D because the body is 3-D, and cultures that more closely resemble native tissue are expected to provide better results for preclinical drug tests," said study co-author Tom Killian, associate professor of physics at Rice. "If you could improve the accuracy of early drug screenings by just 10 percent, it's estimated you could save as much as $100 million per drug."

For cancer research, the "invisible scaffold" created by the magnetic field goes beyond its potential for producing cell cultures that are more reminiscent of real tumors, which itself would be an important advance, said co-author Wadih Arap, professor in the David H. Koch Center at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

To make cells levitate, the research team modified a combination of gold nanoparticles and engineered viral particles called "phage" that was developed in the lab of Arap and Renata Pasqualini, also of the Koch Center. This targeted "nanoshuttle" can deliver payloads to specific organs or tissues.

"A logical next step for us will be to use this additional magnetic property in targeted ways to explore possible applications in the imaging and treatment of tumors," Arap said.

The 3-D modeling raises another interesting long-term possibility. "This is a step toward building better models of organs in the lab," Pasqualini said.