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Priming cultured cells to a 3D microenvironment impacts their structural and functional phenotype.

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  • Full or part time
    Prof S A Przyborski
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Tissue-specific architecture, mechanical and biochemical cues and cell-cell interactions are altered or lost under the simplified conditions of two-dimensional (2D) cell culture. Three-dimensional (3D) cell cultures attempt to mimic the in vivo situation by preserving the 3D integrity of individual cells and enabling cells to create their own niche in conjunction with the extracellular matrix. There is good evidence to show that 3D models can be used to study physiology where tissue-like function can be maintained. It is common practice however to expand populations of cells in 2D culture initially (particularly cell lines) prior to seeding such cells into 3D culture models. In such circumstances, cells are simultaneously: a) adapting to their new surroundings (2D to 3D growth transition); and b) being challenged and/or examined as part of the 3D cell culture assay (for example, a drug cytotoxicity test). This makes it difficult to decipher the precise outcome of the assay given that cells are concurrently exposed to two such major variables.

We hypothesise that cell populations initially primed within a 3D environment are more likely to adapt to their surroundings when seeded into a 3D culture model or transplanted in vivo (i.e. without the need for 2D to 3D transition). In this project we will collaborate with ECACC Culture Collections, an organization that supplies cell lines to researchers. The culture of popular cell lines that are grown routinely as adherent 2D monolayers, will be maintained in a novel system that enables maintenance of cells in 3D to adapt their phenotype to a more native 3D state. Specifically, the student will: 1) (0-15 mths) optimize methods to adapt cells to a 3D phenotype; 2) (6-21 mths) Characterize the cell phenotype by detailed examination of cell morphology, cytoskeletal structure, expression of integrin/caherins and focal adhesion proteins, expression of markers associated with 3D phenotype known to be lost in 2D culture; 3) (18-28 mths) conduct a 3-way comparison of 2D vs 3D vs in vivo (e.g. xenograft tumour tissue) examining key structural cell proteins known to be differentially regulated in 2D and 3D culture; 4) (24-30 mths) test the ability of the 2D vs 3D adapted cells to produce 3D structures when grown in alternative technologies designed to support 3D cell growth in vitro, e.g. scaffolds, and spheroid cultures; 5) (30-36 mths) Assess the ability of 2D & 3D adapted cells to form xenograft tumours when transplanted into immune deficient mice. The growth rate, size and tissue composition will be compared. The project will provide new information of how the growth environment plays an important role in the basic biology of cultured cells and their ability to form 3D tissues. The student will gain knowledge of cell science and training in cellular and molecular techniques with academic and industrial partners. It is anticipated that these new approaches for maintaining cells will be immediately beneficial to biologists looking to improve their in vitro model.

Funding Notes

Full time industrial CASE studentship supported by the BBSRC. Fully funded to cover tuition fees and stipend for three and a half years. Industrial CASE partner European Collection of Cell Cultures (ECACC), Public Health England, Porton Down, UK. This project is in competition with other students for funding. Success will depend on the quality of applications received, relative to those for competing projects.


Please arrange and supply x2 independent letters of reference (e.g. project supervisor, placement supervisor, Masters supervisor, academic tutor) to be sent direct to [email protected] by 10th June 2016.

How good is research at Durham University in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 39.00

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