The Sensitivity of Cells to a 3D Environment
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The purpose of cell culture has historically been to study the basic units of life in a controlled and isolated manner. This has long meant transferring cells from their complex environments found in the body onto sustainable flat dishes in a laboratory. It is beginning to be appreciated, however, that cells are significantly affected by such a shift from 3D to 2D. Indeed, many cell types have been found to be quite sensitive to the local physical space that supports them. In order to fully understand how cells integrate into functional tissue, some amount of scientific backpedaling must occur as cells in culture are incrementally provided with engineered structures that simply set out to restore some of the original in vivo complexity. Representing this seemingly contradictory but ultimately beneficial approach, this image shows both 2D and 3D renderings of a cell embracing an engineered 3D scaffold in culture. Captured by laser confocal microscopy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the cell is a primary rat cardiac fibroblast stained red for actin microfilaments, while the rod-shaped scaffold autofluoresces as blue. My ongoing work at UIC investigates how such physical features, when dispersed in 3D, directly alter cardiac cells.