The challenge of the post-genomic era is functional genomics, i.e. understanding how the genome is expressed to produce myriad cell phenotypes. A phenotype is the result of selective expression of the genome in response to the microenvironment. to use genomic information to understand the biology of complex organisms, the biological responses and signaling pathways in cells need to be studied in context, i.e. within the proper tissue structure. Nonetheless, most current biology is conducted using cells cultured in monolayers on traditional tissue culture plastic. These non-physiological models impede the ability to predict in vivo responses from model systems. The same cells cultured in 2-dimensions (i.e. monolayers) vs. 3-dimensions (e.g. multicellular tumor spheroids) differ in their responses to external stimuli such as ionizing radiation, viral infection, cytotoxic drugs, and chemotherapeutic agents. Our laboratory has led the way in promoting and developing 3-dimensional cell culture models that more accurately reflect in vivo biology, beginning with the establishment 15 years ago of physiologically functional reconstituted mammary acini in culture.
Quantitation of spatial and temporal concurrent behavior of multiple markers in these 3-dimensional cell cultures is hampered by the currently routine mode of sequential image acquisition, measurement and analysis of specific targets. This precludes the detailed analysis of multi-dimensional, time sequence responses and fails to relate features in novel and meaningful ways that will further our understanding of basic biology. Thus new methodology was needed for high-throughput, dynamic evaluations of large numbers of live multicellular specimens. Rather than using confocal microscopy methods, which interfere with live cell systems due to photo-damage, optical sectioning of the 3-dimensional structures is achieved with structured light illumination using the Wilson grating in an implementation described by Lanni.