"When we grew kidney cells in these microgels, the cultures formed hollow sphere structures resembling primitive kidneys within four or five days," Eydelnant claims.
The tool allows a great deal of flexibility in terms of the number of different kinds of cells that can be incorporated into the shapes, as well as the shapes and size of the microenvironments: whimsical, like the stars, diamond and circles of Lucky Charms, or designed to mimic living 3D niches, offering researchers a glimpse into how these factors all affect cell fate decisions.
What's more, according to Eydelnant, the platform permits researchers to run, "32 experiments at the same time, automatically, and all on something the size of a credit card."
"[This new] system allows for hands-free assembly of sub-microlitre, three-dimensional microgels. Each gel is individually addressable, fluid exchange is gentler than macro-scale alternatives, and reagent use is reduced more than 100-fold," Wheeler says.
"We believe that this new tool will make 3D cell culture a more attractive and accessible format for cell biology research," he adds.
Although the researchers can foresee numerous possible applications for this platform, the team is "particularly excited" about its potential for personalized medicine.
Wheeler argues, "We may be able to collect small tissue samples from patients, distribute them into 3D gels on digital microfluidic devices, and screen for conditions to identify individually tailored therapies. This is in the 'dream' stages for now, but we think the methods described here will be useful for these types of applications in the future."
|Contact: Erin Vollick|
University of Toronto