Egg whites solve the 3-D problem

Oct 07, 2008

The real world is three-dimensional. That's true even in the laboratory, where scientists have to grow cells to study how they develop and what happens when their growth is abnormal.

More and more laboratories are seeking to develop three-dimensional cell culture systems that allow them to test their new techniques and drugs in a system that more closely mimics the way in which cells grow. However, a big sticking point is the cost of commercial media for growing such cultures.

Dr. Steffi Oesterreich, associate professor in the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor College of Medicine, and Dr. Benny A. Kaipparettu, a postdoctoral associate in her laboratory, found a solution – chicken egg whites. Their process has garnered attention in other laboratories around the world. A report on their technique appeared in a recent issue of the journal BioTechniques, which featured their article on its cover.

"It's important because the architecture of the cell is different in two dimensions compared to three," she 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 three-dimensional culture allows cells to signal or send messages to one another as they would in a normal environment. Understanding cell signaling has become an increasingly important part of understanding how cells operate normally and what does wrong when they do not.

The use of a three-dimensional cell culture systems has become so important that the National Cancer Institute has launched a new Tumor 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 laboratory found that chicken eggs whites enabled them to grow both normal and tumors cells in three-dimensions.

"We have known for centuries that a baby chick can grow in three dimensions in an egg shell without any external support," said Kaipparettu. "Now we have found that Mother Nature has provided us a valuable tool for medical research. It gives an 'eggcellent' tool for researchers around the world to perform three-dimensional cellular research."

They are seeking a patent on the process, and hoping to find corporate partners.

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.

"It seemed a good idea and we thought we would try it," said Kaipparettu.

Source: Baylor College of Medicine

Explore further: Ivory mafia: how criminal gangs are killing Africa's elephants

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Video: The future of manned moon exploration

1 hour ago

This 8-minute film gives an overview of the past, present, and future of Moon Exploration, from the Lunar cataclysm to ESA's vision of what Lunar exploration could be.

Recommended for you

Obama recommends extended wilderness zone in Alaska

8 hours ago

US President Barack Obama said Sunday he would recommend a large swath of Alaska be designated as wilderness, the highest level of federal protection, in a move likely to anger oil proponents.

Uganda seizes massive ivory and pangolin haul

10 hours ago

Ugandan wildlife officers have seized a huge haul of elephant ivory and pangolin scales, representing the deaths of hundreds of endangered animals, police said Sunday.

The elephant poaching business in numbers

18 hours ago

From the pittance paid to local poachers to a multi-billion dollar industry, here are some of the key numbers related to Africa's endangered elephants:

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.