In vitro 3D culture is an important model for tissues in vivo. Cells in different locations of 3D tissues are physiologically different, because they are exposed to different concentrations of oxygen, nutrients, and signaling molecules, and to other environmental factors (temperature, mechanical stress, etc). The majority of high-throughput assays based on 3D cultures, however, can only detect the average behavior of cells in the whole 3D construct. Isolation of cells from specific regions of 3D cultures is possible, but relies on low-throughput techniques such as tissue sectioning and micromanipulation. Based on a procedure reported previously ("cells-in-gels-in-paper" or CiGiP), this paper describes a simple method for culture of arrays of thin planar sections of tissues, either alone or stacked to create more complex 3D tissue structures. This procedure starts with sheets of paper patterned with hydrophobic regions that form 96 hydrophilic zones. Serial spotting of cells suspended in extracellular matrix (ECM) gel onto the patterned paper creates an array of 200 micron-thick slabs of ECM gel (supported mechanically by cellulose fibers) containing cells. Stacking the sheets with zones aligned on top of one another assembles 96 3D multilayer constructs. De-stacking the layers of the 3D culture, by peeling apart the sheets of paper, "sections" all 96 cultures at once. It is, thus, simple to isolate 200-micron-thick cell-containing slabs from each 3D culture in the 96-zone array. Because the 3D cultures are assembled from multiple layers, the number of cells plated initially in each layer determines the spatial distribution of cells in the stacked 3D cultures. This capability made it possible to compare the growth of 3D tumor models of different spatial composition, and to examine the migration of cells in these structures.
Derda, R., Tang, S. K. Y., Laromaine, A., Mosadegh, B., Hong, E., Mwangi, M., … Whitesides, G. M. (2011). Multizone paper platform for 3D cell cultures. PLoS ONE, 6(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0018940