What are spheroids and why are they important?

Spheroids are three-dimensional (3D) cell cultures that arrange themselves during proliferation into sphere-like formations. They got their name in the 1970s when hamster lung cells grown in suspension were observed arranging themselves into perfect spheres. With two-dimensional (2D), monolayer cell cultures, cells only interact with the substrate they grow on. Meanwhile, 3D culturing can produce spheroids that promote cell-to-cell connectivity and can be embedded in the extracellular matrix (ECM). These 3D bioprinted constructs help us understand cellular microenvironments and offer more realistic models for disease modeling and drug discovery.

Spheroids are especially interesting in regenerative medicinecancer research and drug screening. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are multipotent cells that have the ability to form and repair skeletal tissue⁠. Spheroids formed with MSCs have shown increased tissue regeneration and repair properties. In cancer research, these sphere-like formations are used as multicellular tumor spheroid models (MCTS). The unique cell composition within an MCTS reveals how cells grow, interact, proliferate and absorb nutrients. These properties make spheroids ideal preclinical test models for drug discovery. In regenerative medicine, these cell clusters can lead to longer survival periods after tissue transplantation.

3D bioprinting automates formation of spheroids

Current challenges include finding the most suitable techniques for forming spheroids, as well as ensuring reproducibility and size uniformity. The latter is especially important for getting physiologically relevant research results because cellular functions inside spheroids show a correlation to the size of the cell cluster. 

Automated 3D bioprinting technologies are accelerating spheroid formation for better predictive tissue modelsThey enable improved spatial control, reduce human error, offer greater material versatility and faster speeds. Scientists are able to develop standardized workflows, avoid time-consuming and repetitive tasks and gather more consistent data. 

Our bioprinters promote forming spheroids more efficiently by allowing for the concurrent use of different types of biomaterials, including hydrogels, biofilms and particles. These 3D biological printing instruments also support multiple cell types and offer high-precision droplet dispensing. Refining the efficiency of spheroid formation with scalable, cost-efficient 3D bioprinting systems will promote the study of cellular biology. Advances in this field will no doubt lead to new and exciting biomedical applications. 

Create your own spheroids

Spheroids continue to propel 3D cell culturing forward. At CELLINK, we recognize the need for tools that simplify the reproducible formation of these cell clusters. To that end, we equipped our BIO X with a dedicated droplet mode and developed an Electromagnetic Droplet printhead for fastpace dispensing. Products like the Spheroid Kit, which includes ULA plates and bioinks for various cells, further complement our bioprinting technologies. For higher throughput needs, DISPENDIX’s I.DOT and I.DOT MINI Liquid handling systems offer rapid cellfriendly dispensing methods to users.