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Encapsulation of cells in agarose - Dolomite Bio

Encapsulation of Cells in Agarose

What is agarose?

Agarose, a biopolymer and hydrogel, is a naturally occurring polysaccharide, extracted from certain types of red seaweed. It has the benefits of excellent biocompatibility, thermo-reversible gel behavior, non-toxicity and low-cost, all of which make it a popular material for scientific applications [1].

The use of agarose in research


Agarose droplets, when solidified into beads, provide a spherical scaffold and allow the diffusion of nutrients and gases. They therefore display many similarities to the native physiological environment of living cells [4]. For this reason, cells encapsulated in agarose can be grown for extended periods of time within these three-dimensional microenvironments.

Cell-containing agarose beads can be used in:

  • Cancer research, to study tumor development [2]
  • Drug screening, once colonies of cancer cells are established[3]
  • 3D in vitro tissue synthesis, by growing cells in gel spheres that can be seeded onto 3D scaffolds


Encapsulation of cells in agarose on the Nadia Innovate

Agarose’s spherical scaffold structure and ability to allow the diffusion of nutrients and gases make it an ideal model system for mammalian cell culture, given its many similarities to the native physiological environment of living cells (4). Single cells encapsulated in agarose can, therefore, be grown for extended periods of time within these individual three-dimensional microenvironments and used in various research including single cell experiments.   

The Nadia Innovate allows users to  encapsulate single cells into agarose spheres for the purpose of 3D culture, among others. More than one cell can also be encapsulated into one droplet to enable the study of cell-cell interactions. Download our application note for more details.



Agarose Encapsulation - Dolomite Bio

Schematic of cell-containing agarose droplet generation. Flow focusing on the Nadia Chip allows droplets of agarose to be formed at high throughput. This technique can be used to encase cells in the spherical scaffold provided by the agarose once it had hardened.

Beads -  Dolomite BioTwo living, differentially-stained, cells were encapsulated together in an agarose bead on the Dolomite Bio Nadia Innovate platform (in blue: Hoechst-stained HEK cell, in green: Calcein-stained 3T3 cell).

Download application note by filling in the form below

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  1. Luo R-C. and Chen C-H., “Structured Microgels through Microfluidic Assembly and their Biomedical Applications”, Soft. 2012 Dec;1;1-23
  2. Smith BH, Gazda LS, Conn BL, Jain K, Asina S, Levine DM, et al. Three-Dimensional Culture of Mouse Renal Carcinoma Cells in Agarose Macrobeads Selects for a Subpopulation of Cells with Cancer Stem Cell or Cancer Progenitor Properties. Cancer Res. 2011 Feb 1;71(3):716–24.
  3. Li Y, Kumacheva E. Hydrogel microenvironments for cancer spheroid growth and drug screening. Sci Adv. 2018 Apr 1;4(4):eaas8998.
  4. Joseph JS, Malindisa ST, Ntwasa M. Two-Dimensional (2D) and Three-Dimensional (3D) Cell Culturing in Drug Discovery. In: Cell Culture [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2019 Sep 19]. Available from: