A microfluidics-based stem cell model of early post-implantation human development

Nat Protoc. 2021 Jan;16(1):309-326. doi: 10.1038/s41596-020-00417-w. Epub 2020 Dec 11.


Early post-implantation human embryonic development has been challenging to study due to both technical limitations and ethical restrictions. Proper modeling of the process is important for infertility and toxicology research. Here we provide details of the design and implementation of a microfluidic device that can be used to model human embryo development. The microfluidic human embryo model is established from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs), and the resulting structures exhibit molecular and cellular features resembling the progressive development of the early post-implantation human embryo. The compartmentalized configuration of the microfluidic device allows the formation of spherical hPSC clusters in prescribed locations in the device, enabling the two opposite regions of each hPSC cluster to be exposed to two different exogenous chemical environments. Under such asymmetrical chemical conditions, several early post-implantation human embryo developmental landmarks, including lumenogenesis of the epiblast and the resultant pro-amniotic cavity, formation of a bipolar embryonic sac, and specification of primordial germ cells and gastrulating cells (or mesendoderm cells), can be robustly recapitulated using the microfluidic device. The microfluidic human embryo model is compatible with high-throughput studies, live imaging, immunofluorescence staining, fluorescent in situ hybridization, and single-cell sequencing. This protocol takes ~5 d to complete, including microfluidic device fabrication (2 d), cell seeding (1 d), and progressive development of the microfluidic model until gastrulation-like events occur (1-2 d).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Embryonic Development
  • Equipment Design
  • Germ Layers / cytology
  • Human Embryonic Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Humans
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques / instrumentation*
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques / methods
  • Pluripotent Stem Cells / cytology*