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Biomicrofluidics. 2012 Jun 19;6(2):24131. doi: 10.1063/1.4729747. Print 2012 Jun.

A method to integrate patterned electrospun fibers with microfluidic systems to generate complex microenvironments for cell culture applications.

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Department of Applied Physics, Biological Physics, Chalmers University of Technology, SE-41296 Gothenburg, Sweden.


The properties of a cell's microenvironment are one of the main driving forces in cellular fate processes and phenotype expression invivo. The ability to create controlled cell microenvironments invitro becomes increasingly important for studying or controlling phenotype expression in tissue engineering and drug discovery applications. This includes the capability to modify material surface properties within well-defined liquid environments in cell culture systems. One successful approach to mimic extra cellular matrix is with porous electrospun polymer fiber scaffolds, while microfluidic networks have been shown to efficiently generate spatially and temporally defined liquid microenvironments. Here, a method to integrate electrospun fibers with microfluidic networks was developed in order to form complex cell microenvironments with the capability to vary relevant parameters. Spatially defined regions of electrospun fibers of both aligned and random orientation were patterned on glass substrates that were irreversibly bonded to microfluidic networks produced in poly-dimethyl-siloxane. Concentration gradients obtained in the fiber containing channels were characterized experimentally and compared with values obtained by computational fluid dynamic simulations. Velocity and shear stress profiles, as well as vortex formation, were calculated to evaluate the influence of fiber pads on fluidic properties. The suitability of the system to support cell attachment and growth was demonstrated with a fibroblast cell line. The potential of the platform was further verified by a functional investigation of neural stem cell alignment in response to orientation of electrospun fibers versus a microfluidic generated chemoattractant gradient of stromal cell-derived factor 1 alpha. The described method is a competitive strategy to create complex microenvironments invitro that allow detailed studies on the interplay of topography, substrate surface properties, and soluble microenvironment on cellular fate processes.

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