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Nat Mater. 2007 Nov;6(11):908-15. Epub 2007 Sep 30.

Microfluidic scaffolds for tissue engineering.

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School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA.


Most methods to culture cells in three dimensions depend on a cell-seedable biomaterial to define the global structure of the culture and the microenvironment of the cells. Efforts to tailor these scaffolds have focused on the chemical and mechanical properties of the biomaterial itself. Here, we present a strategy to control the distributions of soluble chemicals within the scaffold with convective mass transfer via microfluidic networks embedded directly within the cell-seeded biomaterial. Our presentation of this strategy includes: a lithographic technique to build functional microfluidic structures within a calcium alginate hydrogel seeded with cells; characterization of this process with respect to microstructural fidelity and cell viability; characterization of convective and diffusive mass transfer of small and large solutes within this microfluidic scaffold; and demonstration of temporal and spatial control of the distribution of non-reactive solutes and reactive solutes (that is, metabolites) within the bulk of the scaffold. This approach to control the chemical environment on a micrometre scale within a macroscopic scaffold could aid in engineering complex tissues.

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