Microfluidics and Cell Modeling
Drug discovery often relies heavily on biological knowledge gleaned from working with cells and tissues in functional assays. Miniaturizing cell culture models using microfluidic systems is ramping up data collection and allowing more in-depth biochemical analyses.
Ivar Meyvantsson, Ph.D., engineering manager at Bellbrook Labs, provides some insights into the field. “ Microfluidics opens the portal to a new way to culture cells in vessels that expand our ability to control the local cellular microenvironment and, just as importantly, to create three-dimensional models that provide more complex and detailed information. Also, interfacing microfluidics with standard automation makes the models much more accessible to drug discovery scientists than in the past.
“For example, a plate that has 96 structures allows one to set up a stable gradient to perform chemotaxis experiments. The cells can be observed with a microscope, which provides more information content compared to existing solutions as to the effects of a drug candidate on living cells.
“One can determine what population of cells moves and how far. You can employ automated image processing to detect morphological features. In other words, once you’ve established that a compound inhibits chemotaxis you can dig deeper and ask what type of effect it has on the cells.”
According to Dr. Meyvantsson, such automation often can be easily employed in labs to allow generation of large datasets.
“Because most labs that do this type of work have automated liquid handlers and high-content analysis systems already in place, they can get up and running quickly without any new equipment purchases.”
The new technology still has some challenges to overcome. “We are still just scratching the surface of this emerging technology,” Dr. Meyvantsson notes. “Some challenges that remain are finding the best way to gather and analyze information and improving manufacturing methods. We’ve made a lot of progress, but there’s still a lot of work needing to be done before we realize the full potential of cell modeling in microfluidic devices.”