Microfluidic cell culture and live cell imaging: practical applications or fancy toys and pretty pictures
Microfluidic technologies have been applied to biological and biochemical research for over two decades. In recent years, a number of microfluidic devices have been designed, produced and reported for culturing eukaryotic cells, promising accurate control of the culture microenvironment, parallelization of experiments, ability to track and study individual cells, and reduced reagent consumption.
In 2011, the Center for Systems Biology at the University of Iceland established an elaborate, fully automated microfluidic cell culture platform, designed around a poly-dimethylsiloxan (PDMS) chip with 96 individual culture chambers. Extensive testing of the platform over the following years has highlighted the systems strengths and weaknesses and applicability to routine cell culture.
A fundamental part of the microfluidic cell culture platform is an automated live-cell imaging station, complete with environmental chamber that allows continuous microscope imaging during cell culture. In addition to the microfluidic work, the microscope has been used for prolonged imaging of both 2 dimensional traditional culture and 3 dimensional gel cultures. This work has provided some interesting insights into cellular dynamics that are impossible to see with fixed sample imaging.