Modeling Immunity In Vitro: Slices, Chips, and Engineered Tissues

Annu Rev Biomed Eng. 2021 Jul 13;23:461-491. doi: 10.1146/annurev-bioeng-082420-124920. Epub 2021 Apr 19.


Modeling immunity in vitro has the potential to be a powerful tool for investigating fundamental biological questions, informing therapeutics and vaccines, and providing new insight into disease progression. There are two major elements to immunity that are necessary to model: primary immune tissues and peripheral tissues with immune components. Here, we systematically review progress made along three strategies to modeling immunity: ex vivo cultures, which preserve native tissue structure; microfluidic devices, which constitute a versatile approach to providing physiologically relevant fluid flow and environmental control; and engineered tissues, which provide precise control of the 3D microenvironment and biophysical cues. While many models focus on disease modeling, more primary immune tissue models are necessary to advance the field. Moving forward, we anticipate that the expansion of patient-specific models may inform why immunity varies from patient to patient and allow for the rapid comprehension and treatment of emerging diseases, such as coronavirus disease 2019.

Keywords: bioreactor; explants; infection; lymphatics; organ-on-chip; tumor.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptive Immunity
  • Animals
  • Biophysics
  • COVID-19 / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immune System
  • Immunity, Innate
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Lab-On-A-Chip Devices
  • Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Mice
  • Microfluidics
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Thymus Gland / immunology
  • Tissue Array Analysis
  • Tissue Engineering / methods*