Microfluidic chamber arrays for testing cellular responses to soluble-matrix and gradient signals

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Park, Edward S.
Lu, Hang
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This work develops microfluidic technologies to advance the state-of-the-art in living cell-based assays. Current cell-based assay platforms are limited in their capabilities, particularly with respect to spatial and temporal control of external signaling factors, sample usage, and throughput. The emergence of highly quantitative, data-driven systems approaches to studying biology have added further challenges to develop assay technologies with greater throughput, content, and physiological relevance. The primary objectives of this research are to (i) develop a method to reliably fabricate 3-D flow networks and (ii) apply 3-D flow networks to the development and testing of microfluidic chamber arrays to query cellular response to soluble-matrix signal combinations and gradient signaling fields. An equally important objective is for the chamber arrays to be scaled efficiently for higher-throughput applications, which is another reason for 3-D flow networks. Two prototype chamber arrays are designed, modeled, fabricated, and characterized. Furthermore, tests are performed wherein cells are introduced into the chambers and microenvironments are presented to elicit complex responses. Specifically, soluble-matrix signaling combinations and soluble signal gradients are presented. The study of complex biological processes necessitates improved assay techniques to control the microenvironment and increase throughput. Quantitative morphological, migrational, and fluorescence readouts, along with qualitative observations, suggest that the chamber arrays elicit responses; however further experiments are required to confirm specific phenotypes. The experiments provide initial proof-of-concept that the developed arrays can one day serve as effective and versatile screening platforms. Understanding the integration of extracellular signals on complex cellular behaviors has significance in the study of embryonic development, tissue repair and regeneration, and pathological conditions such as cancer. The microfluidic chamber arrays developed in this work could form the basis for enhanced assay platforms to perform massively parallel interrogation of complex signaling events upon living cells. This could lead to the rapid identification of synergistic and antagonistic signaling mechanisms that regulate complex behaviors. In addition, the same technology could be used to rapidly screen potential therapeutic compounds and identify suitable candidates to regulate pathological processes, such as cancer and fibrosis.
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