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Novel technologies are required for three-dimensional cell biology and biophysics. By three-dimensional we refer to experimental conditions that essentially try to avoid hard and flat surfaces and favour unconstrained sample dynamics. We believe that light-sheet-based microscopes are particularly well suited to studies of sensitive three-dimensional biological systems. The application of such instruments can be illustrated with examples from the biophysics of microtubule dynamics and three-dimensional cell cultures. Our experience leads us to suggest that three-dimensional approaches reveal new aspects of a system and enable experiments to be performed in a more physiological and hence clinically more relevant context.