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Eukaryotic cells traditionally are grown in two dimensions, on flat plastic dishes. But in the body, cells are embedded in complex 3D structures, and cells that are grown in 2D often display different biological traits – including stem cells. Recently, two popular model systems for 3D cell culture of stem cells have emerged: organoids and organs-on-a-chip (OOCs). Organoids are 3D structures of stem cells that have self-organized into something approximating the specialized tissues of an organ. OOCs are models of organ function made by arranging cell types, often including stem cells, on a microfluidic platform. Both organoids and OOCs are increasingly common in basic and applied research because they replicate in vivo conditions more accurately than animal models or traditional two-dimensional cell cultures. But the two systems are not identical, and using them is far from trivial.
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