The aim of this study was to develop an in vitro cell culture system allowing studying the effect of separation distance between monolayers of rat insulinoma cells (INS-1) and human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) co-cultured in fibrin over INS-1 cell insulin secretion. For this purpose, a three-dimensional (3D) cell culture chamber was designed, built using micro-fabrication techniques and validated. The co-culture was successfully carried out and the effect on INS-1 cell insulin secretion was investigated. After 48 and 72 h, INS-1 cells co-cultured with HUVEC separated by a distance of 100 µm revealed enhanced insulin secretion compared to INS-1 cells cultured alone or co-cultured with HUVEC monolayers separated by a distance of 200 µm. These results illustrate the importance of the separation distance between two cell niches for cell culture design and the possibility to further enhance the endocrine function of beta cells when this factor is considered. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2013; 110: 619–627. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.