Egg whites help labs grow 3-D cell cultures


Washington : More and more labs are seeking to develop 3-D cell-culture systems that allow them to test new techniques and drugs in a medium that more closely mimics the way in which cells grow.

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However, a big sticking point is the cost of commercial media for growing such cultures. Steffi Oesterreich, associate professor in the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Centre at Baylor College of Medicine, and Benny A. Kaipparettu, a postdoctoral associate in her lab, found a solution – chicken egg whites.

Their process has garnered attention from other labs around the world, said a press release of Baylor College of Medicine.

“It’s important because the architecture of the cell is different in two dimensions compared to three,” Oesterreich said. “Understanding how the cell communicates, how protein work requires three dimensions.”

For example, breast cells in the mammary gland form ducts through which milk flows when a woman breastfeeds.

“These are the same cells that cause cancer,” said Oesterreich. “When you put these cells in the egg white preparation, it forms a structure like a duct. In the two-dimensional form, the cells cannot form a duct.”

Only a 3-D culture allows cells to signal or send messages to one another as they would in a normal environment. Understanding cell signalling has become an increasingly important part of understanding how cells operate normally and what goes wrong when they do not.

The use of a three-dimensional cell culture system has become so important that the National Cancer Institute has launched a new Tumour Microenvironment Network focusing on studies of the cellular microenvironment – relying heavily on three-dimensional culture systems and encouraging initiatives to improve techniques.

Oesterreich and Kaipparettu in cooperation with others in their lab found that chicken eggs whites enabled them to grow both normal and tumours cells in three-dimensions.

Egg whites are a good tool because they are easy and cheap to obtain and they are transparent, allowing the researchers to see the cells under a microscope.

These findings appeared in a recent issue of Techniques.