MICROSCALE MULTI-CULTURE OF BONE MARROW MICROENVIRONMENT
Multiple myeloma (MM) is a cancer of the plasma B cells of the bone marrow, normally responsible for producing the antibodies of the immune system. MM is currently incurable, and patients who initially respond to treatment ultimately become resistant to therapy, leading to cancer remission and eventually death. Biologists are interested in understanding the complex interactions between the cancer cells and the factors in the bone marrow microenvironment that cause this resistance, while oncologists in the clinic are working hard to find better treatments and to improve clinical outcomes. Both these important endeavors are currently hindered by the fact that existing tools and methods are not well suited for handling the limited bone marrow samples obtained from the cancer patient during diagnosis. We are advancing a platform technology termed “bone marrow microenvironment on a chip” that has the potential to find utility in both basic and translational research. The technology relies on fabrication of arrayable microfluidic cell culture systems with compartments that can be independently addressed via surface tension-based passive pumping using only a micropipette. The ubiquity of micropipettes in the research lab makes this simple method attractive to users in both research labs and clinical settings.
BLOOD VESSEL NETWORKS-ON-A-CHIP
We are developing methods to engineer blood vessel networks on a chip, with the objective of creating tissue capillary beds for studying tumor angiogenesis and metastasis. By leveraging a fluidic phenomenon termed viscous fingering, 3D cylindrical patterns can be generated within hydrogels to create tubular networks in microfluidic channels. When lined with endothelial cells, these networks can form blood vessel mimics of various shapes and sizes, which can then be used for testing and measuring angiogenic sprouting. Since viscous fingering can be achieved with just a micropipette, the simple method has potential to be integrated with automated liquid handlers, leading to important applications in high-throughput drug screening (e.g., angiogenesis inhibitors).