3D co-culturing model of primary pancreatic islets and hepatocytes in hybrid spheroid to overcome pancreatic cell shortage

Yesl Jun, Ah Ran Kang, Jae Seo Lee, Gi Seok Jeong, Jongil Ju, Dong Yun Lee, Sang Hoon Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)


Here, a spheroidal 3D co-culture model of primary (rat) pancreatic islets and hepatocytes with uniform size and shape was developed using hemispheric concave microwell arrays. We conducted morphological and functional analyses of hybrid spheroids versus mono-cultures of islets or hepatocytes (controls). For the establishment of a 3D hybrid model, a broad range of cell ratios - 1:1, 1:3, 1:5, 1:7, 3:1, 5:1 and 7:1 mixture - of hepatocytes and pancreatic islets were used. As control, each hepatocyte and pancreatic islet were mono-cultured forming 3D spheroids. The transient morphology of spheroid formation in 9 culture models was observed using optical microscopy. Cell viability under these culture environments was assessed, and the morphologies of the outer and inner porous cell-spheroid structures were investigated using scanning electron microscopy (SEM), transmission electron microscopy (TEM), and imaging of stained spheroid sections. The pancreatic islet-specific function of hybrid spheroids was evaluated by measuring insulin secretion and in vivo test by xenotransplantation of encapsulated spheroids in microfibers with a consistent maintenance of normal blood glucose levels over 4 weeks, while liver-specific functions were measured in terms of albumin secretion, urea secretion and cytochrome P450 activity. These diverse observations and evaluations validated the positive and bidirectional effects of co-cultured 3D spheroids. The proposed 3D co-culture model demonstrated that both cells appeared to support each other's functions strongly in spheroids, even though smaller proportions of each cell type was evaluated compared to mono-culture models, suggesting that the proposed model could help overcome the problem of cell shortages in clinical applications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3784-3794
Number of pages11
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 2013 May

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant funded by the Korea government (MEST) (No. 2012026340 ) and the Industrial Core Technology Development Program funded (No. 10041923 ) by the Ministry of Knowledge Economy.


  • Co-culture
  • Concave microwell array
  • Hepatocytes
  • Islet encapsulation
  • Pancreatic islets
  • Type-1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Biophysics
  • Biomaterials
  • Mechanics of Materials


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