Three-dimensional Microfluidic Collagen Hydrogels for Investigating Flow-Mediated Tumor-Endothelial Signaling and Vascular Organization

Tissue Eng Part C Methods. 2014 Jan;20(1):64-75. doi: 10.1089/ten.TEC.2012.0731. Epub 2013 Jul 12.


Hyperpermeable tumor vessels are responsible for elevated interstitial fluid pressure and altered flow patterns within the tumor microenvironment. These aberrant hydrodynamic stresses may enhance tumor development by stimulating the angiogenic activity of endothelial cells lining the tumor vasculature. However, it is currently not known to what extent shear forces affect endothelial organization or paracrine signaling during tumor angiogenesis. The objective of this study was to develop a three-dimensional (3D), in vitro microfluidic tumor vascular model for coculture of tumor and endothelial cells under varying flow shear stress conditions. A central microchannel embedded within a collagen hydrogel functions as a single neovessel through which tumor-relevant hydrodynamic stresses are introduced and quantified using microparticle image velocimetry (μ-PIV). This is the first use of μ-PIV in a tumor representative, 3D collagen matrix comprised of cylindrical microchannels, rather than planar geometries, to experimentally measure flow velocity and shear stress. Results demonstrate that endothelial cells develop a confluent endothelium on the microchannel lumen that maintains integrity under physiological flow shear stresses. Furthermore, this system provides downstream molecular analysis capability, as demonstrated by quantitative RT-PCR, in which, tumor cells significantly increase expression of proangiogenic genes in response to coculture with endothelial cells under low flow conditions. This work demonstrates that the microfluidic in vitro cell culture model can withstand a range of physiological flow rates and permit quantitative measurement of wall shear stress at the fluid-collagen interface using μ-PIV optical flow diagnostics, ultimately serving as a versatile platform for elucidating the role of fluid forces on tumor-endothelial cross talk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Collagen / pharmacology*
  • Endothelial Cells / drug effects
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Hydrogels / pharmacology*
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques / methods*
  • Neoplasms / blood supply*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Rats
  • Refractometry
  • Rheology*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*


  • Hydrogels
  • Collagen