Advantages and challenges of microfluidic cell culture in polydimethylsiloxane devices

Biosens Bioelectron. 2015 Jan 15;63:218-231. doi: 10.1016/j.bios.2014.07.029. Epub 2014 Jul 19.


Culture of cells using various microfluidic devices is becoming more common within experimental cell biology. At the same time, a technological radiation of microfluidic cell culture device designs is currently in progress. Ultimately, the utility of microfluidic cell culture will be determined by its capacity to permit new insights into cellular function. Especially insights that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to obtain with macroscopic cell culture in traditional polystyrene dishes, flasks or well-plates. Many decades of heuristic optimization have gone into perfecting conventional cell culture devices and protocols. In comparison, even for the most commonly used microfluidic cell culture devices, such as those fabricated from polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), collective understanding of the differences in cellular behavior between microfluidic and macroscopic culture is still developing. Moving in vitro culture from macroscopic culture to PDMS based devices can come with unforeseen challenges. Changes in device material, surface coating, cell number per unit surface area or per unit media volume may all affect the outcome of otherwise standard protocols. In this review, we outline some of the advantages and challenges that may accompany a transition from macroscopic to microfluidic cell culture. We focus on decisive factors that distinguish macroscopic from microfluidic cell culture to encourage a reconsideration of how macroscopic cell culture principles might apply to microfluidic cell culture.

Keywords: Cell culture; Microfluidic; Polydimethylsiloxane.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Batch Cell Culture Techniques / instrumentation*
  • Biocompatible Materials / chemistry*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dimethylpolysiloxanes / chemistry*
  • Equipment Design
  • Equipment Failure Analysis
  • Humans
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques / instrumentation*


  • Biocompatible Materials
  • Dimethylpolysiloxanes
  • baysilon