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Biotechnol Bioeng. 2017 Oct;114(10):2360-2370. doi: 10.1002/bit.26341. Epub 2017 Jun 27.

A pump-free microfluidic 3D perfusion platform for the efficient differentiation of human hepatocyte-like cells.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, National University of Singapore, 4, Engineering Drive 3, E4-04-10, Singapore, 117583.
Department of Mechanical Engineering, National University of Singapore, Singapore.
Department of Physiology, National University of Singapore, Singapore.
Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, Singapore.
Mechanobiology Institute, National University of Singapore, Singapore.
InvitroCue Pte Ltd., Singapore.
Singapore Institute for Neurotechnology, Singapore.
NUS Tissue Engineering Programme, National University of Singapore, Singapore.


The practical application of microfluidic liver models for in vitro drug testing is partly hampered by their reliance on human primary hepatocytes, which are limited in number and have batch-to-batch variation. Human stem cell-derived hepatocytes offer an attractive alternative cell source, although their 3D differentiation and maturation in a microfluidic platform have not yet been demonstrated. We develop a pump-free microfluidic 3D perfusion platform to achieve long-term and efficient differentiation of human liver progenitor cells into hepatocyte-like cells (HLCs). The device contains a micropillar array to immobilize cells three-dimensionally in a central cell culture compartment flanked by two side perfusion channels. Constant pump-free medium perfusion is accomplished by controlling the differential heights of horizontally orientated inlet and outlet media reservoirs. Computational fluid dynamic simulation is used to estimate the hydrostatic pressure heads required to achieve different perfusion flow rates, which are experimentally validated by micro-particle image velocimetry, as well as viability and functional assessments in a primary rat hepatocyte model. We perform on-chip differentiation of HepaRG, a human bipotent progenitor cell, and discover that 3D microperfusion greatly enhances the hepatocyte differentiation efficiency over static 2D and 3D cultures. However, HepaRG progenitor cells are highly sensitive to the time-point at which microperfusion is applied. Isolated HepaRG cells that are primed as static 3D spheroids before being subjected to microperfusion yield a significantly higher proportion of HLCs (92%) than direct microperfusion of isolated HepaRG cells (62%). This platform potentially offers a simple and efficient means to develop highly functional microfluidic liver models incorporating human stem cell-derived HLCs. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2017;114: 2360-2370.


3D perfusion culture; hepatocytes; human stem cells; microfluidics; pump-free

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