Washington, October 8 : A team of American researchers has achieved a breakthrough in using chicken egg whites to grow both normal and tumour cells in three-dimensions.
Research leader Dr. Steffi Oesterreich, associate professor in the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor College of Medicine, says that egg whites can serve as a very good tool to study how cells develop, and what happens when their growth is abnormal.
Since egg whites are transparent, she adds, one can see the cells under a microscope.
"It's important because the architecture of the cell is different in two dimensions compared to three. Understanding how the cell communicates, how protein work requires three dimensions," she says.
Oesterreich highlights the fact that breast cells in the mammary gland form ducts through which milk flows when a woman breastfeeds.
"These are the same cells that cause cancer. 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," she adds.
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.
Dr. Benny A. Kaipparettu, a postdoctoral associate in Oesterreich's laboratory, says: "We have known for centuries that a baby chick can grow in three dimensions in an egg shell without any external support. 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."
The researchers are seeking a patent on the process, and hoping to find corporate partners.
A report on the new approach has been published in the journal BioTechniques.