Scalable microphysiological system to model three-dimensional blood vessels

APL Bioeng. 2019 Jun 21;3(2):026105. doi: 10.1063/1.5090986. eCollection 2019 Jun.


Blood vessel models are increasingly recognized to have value in understanding disease and drug discovery. However, continued improvements are required to more accurately reflect human vessel physiology. Realistic three-dimensional (3D) in vitro cultures of human vascular cells inside microfluidic chips, or vessels-on-chips (VoC), could contribute to this since they can recapitulate aspects of the in vivo microenvironment by including mechanical stimuli such as shear stress. Here, we used human induced pluripotent stem cells as a source of endothelial cells (hiPSC-ECs), in combination with a technique called viscous finger patterning (VFP) toward this goal. We optimized VFP to create hollow structures in collagen I extracellular-matrix inside microfluidic chips. The lumen formation success rate was over 90% and the resulting cellularized lumens had a consistent diameter over their full length, averaging 336 ± 15 μm. Importantly, hiPSC-ECs cultured in these 3D microphysiological systems formed stable and viable vascular structures within 48 h. Furthermore, this system could support coculture of hiPSC-ECs with primary human brain vascular pericytes, demonstrating their ability to accommodate biologically relevant combinations of multiple vascular cell types. Our protocol for VFP is more robust than previously published methods with respect to success rates and reproducibility of the diameter between- and within channels. This, in combination with the ease of preparation, makes hiPSC-EC based VoC a low-cost platform for future studies in personalized disease modeling.