Novel 3D Liquid Cell Culture Method for Anchorage-independent Cell Growth, Cell Imaging and Automated Drug Screening

Natsuki Abe-Fukasawa, Keiichiro Otsuka, Ayako Aihara, Nobue Itasaki, Taito Nishino*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
408 Downloads (Pure)


Cells grown in three-dimensional (3D) cultures are more likely to have native cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions than in 2D cultures that impose mechanical constraints to cells. However, most 3D cultures utilise gel matrix which, while serving as a scaffold, limits application due to its solid and opaque nature and inconsistency in cell exposure to exogenous signals. In 3D culture without gel matrix, cells tend to adhere to each other and form clumps with necrotic zone at the centre, making them unsuitable for analyses. Here we report that addition of low-molecular-weight agar named LA717 to culture media allows cells to grow as dispersed clonal spheroids in 3D. LA717 maintains cells dispersed and settled to the bottom of the medium while keeping the medium clear with little additional viscosity, making it suitable for microscopic observation. Importantly, cancer spheroids formed in LA717-containing medium show higher sensitivity to anti-cancer drugs such as Trametinib and MK-2206 that are not as effective in 2D. Because of the small and consistent size of spheroids, cell viability and drug toxicity are readily detectable in automated imaging analysis. These results demonstrate that LA717 offers a novel 3D culture system with great in vivo reflection and practicality.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3627
Number of pages12
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 26 Feb 2018


  • 3D cell culture
  • spheroids
  • cell imaging
  • anti-cancer drugs
  • low molecular weight agar
  • high content analysis/screening (HCA/HCS)


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