Macro- and microscale fluid flow systems for endothelial cell biology

Lab Chip. 2010 Jan 21;10(2):143-60. doi: 10.1039/b913390a. Epub 2009 Oct 9.


Recent advances in microfluidics have brought forth new tools for studying flow-induced effects on mammalian cells, with important applications in cardiovascular, bone and cancer biology. The plethora of microscale systems developed to date demonstrate the flexibility of microfluidic designs, and showcase advantages of the microscale that are simply not available at the macroscale. However, the majority of these systems will likely not achieve widespread use in the biological laboratory due to their complexity and lack of user-friendliness. To gain widespread acceptance in the biological research community, microfluidics engineers must understand the needs of cell biologists, while biologists must be made aware of available technology. This review provides a critical evaluation of cell culture flow (CCF) systems used to study the effects of mechanical forces on endothelial cells (ECs) in vitro. To help understand the need for various designs of CCF systems, we first briefly summarize main properties of ECs and their native environments. Basic principles of various macro- and microscale systems are described and evaluated. New opportunities are uncovered for developing technologies that have potential to both improve efficiency of experimentation as well as answer important biological questions that otherwise cannot be tackled with existing systems. Finally, we discuss some of the unresolved issues related to microfluidic cell culture, suggest possible avenues of investigation that could resolve these issues, and provide an outlook for the future of microfluidics in biological research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Biology / instrumentation
  • Cell Culture Techniques / instrumentation*
  • Computer-Aided Design
  • Endothelial Cells / cytology*
  • Endothelial Cells / physiology*
  • Equipment Design
  • Equipment Failure Analysis
  • Flow Cytometry / instrumentation*
  • Flow Injection Analysis / instrumentation*
  • Flow Injection Analysis / methods
  • Humans
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular / physiology*
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques / instrumentation*