Conventional drug screening processes are a time-consuming and expensive endeavor, but highly rewarding when they are successful. To identify promising lead compounds, millions of compounds are traditionally screened against therapeutic targets on human cells grown on the surface of 96-wells. These two-dimensional (2D) cell monolayers are physiologically irrelevant, thus, often providing false-positive or false-negative results, when compared to cells grown in three-dimensional (3D) structures such as hydrogel droplets. However, 3D cell culture systems are not easily amenable to high-throughput screening (HTS), thus inherently low throughput, and requiring relatively large volume for cell-based assays. In addition, it is difficult to control cellular microenvironments and hard to obtain reliable cell images due to focus position and transparency issues. To overcome these problems, miniaturized 3D cell cultures in hydrogels were developed via cell printing techniques where cell spots in hydrogels can be arrayed on the surface of glass slides or plastic chips by microarray spotters and cultured in growth media to form cells encapsulated 3D droplets for various cell-based assays. These approaches can dramatically reduce assay volume, provide accurate control over cellular microenvironments, and allow us to obtain clear 3D cell images for high-content imaging (HCI). In this review, several hydrogels that are compatible to microarray printing robots are discussed for miniaturized 3D cell cultures.
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