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Lab Chip. 2013 Aug 7;13(15):2999-3007. doi: 10.1039/c3lc50123j.

Cardiac-like flow generator for long-term imaging of endothelial cell responses to circulatory pulsatile flow at microscale.

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Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.


In vitro models of circulatory hemodynamics are required to mimic the microcirculation for study of endothelial cell responses to pulsatile shear stress by live cell imaging. This study reports the design, fabrication and characterisation of a microfluidic device that generates cardiac-like flow in a continuous culture system with a circulatory volume of only 2-3 μL. The device mimics a single chamber heart, with the following cardiac phases: (1) closure of the ventricle inlet valve, (2) contraction of the ventricle (systole) followed by opening of the outlet valve and (3) relaxation of the ventricle (diastole) with opening of the inlet valve whilst the outlet valve remains closed. Periodic valve states and ventricular contractions were actuated by microprocessor controlled pneumatics. The time-dependent velocity-field was characterised by micro-particle image velocimetry (μ-PIV). μ-PIV observations were used to help tune electronic timing of valve states and ventricular contractions for synthesis of an arterial pulse waveform to study the effect of pulsatile shear stress on bovine artery endothelial cells (BAECs). BAECs elongated and aligned with the direction of shear stress after 48 h of exposure to a pulsatile waveform with a maximum shear stress of 0.42 Pa. The threshold for BAECs alignment and elongation under steady (non-pulsatile) flow reported by Kadohama et al. (2006) is 0.7-1.4 Pa. These cells respond to transient shear stress because the time average shear stress of the pulse waveform to generate this morphological response was only 0.09 Pa, well below the steady flow threshold. The microfluidic pulse generator can simulate circulatory hemodynamics for live cell imaging of shear-induced signalling pathways.

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