Three-dimensional cell culture has many advantages over monolayer cultures, and spheroids have been hailed as the best current representation of small avascular tumours in vitro. However their adoption in regular screening programs has been hindered by uneven culture growth, poor reproducibility and lack of high-throughput analysis methods for 3D. The objective of this study was to develop a method for a quick and reliable anticancer drug screen in 3D for tumour and human foetal brain tissue in order to investigate drug effectiveness and selective cytotoxic effects. Commercially available ultra-low attachment 96-well round-bottom plates were employed to culture spheroids in a rapid, reproducible manner amenable to automation. A set of three mechanistically different methods for spheroid health assessment (Spheroid volume, metabolic activity and acid phosphatase enzyme activity) were validated against cell numbers in healthy and drug-treated spheroids. An automated open-source ImageJ macro was developed to enable high-throughput volume measurements. Although spheroid volume determination was superior to the other assays, multiplexing it with resazurin reduction and phosphatase activity produced a richer picture of spheroid condition. The ability to distinguish between effects on malignant and the proliferating component of normal brain was tested using etoposide on UW228-3 medulloblastoma cell line and human neural stem cells. At levels below 10 µM etoposide exhibited higher toxicity towards proliferating stem cells, whereas at concentrations above 10 µM the tumour spheroids were affected to a greater extent. The high-throughput assay procedures use ready-made plates, open-source software and are compatible with standard plate readers, therefore offering high predictive power with substantial savings in time and money.
Alexander, C., Ivanov, D. P., WALKER, D., Parker, T. L., GARNETT, M., Ashford, M. B., & Gellert, P. R. (2014). Multiplexing Spheroid Volume, Resazurin and Acid Phosphatase Viability Assays for High-Throughput Screening of Tumour Spheroids and Stem Cell Neurospheres. PLoS ONE, 9(8), https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0103817