Research highlights: measuring and manipulating cell migration
Microfabricated systems and microfluidic tools are well-suited to interface with cells because of the matching length scales. In this issue, we highlight three recent papers in which unique tools were used to control or measure cell migration. Cell migration is a key biological process involved in normal physiology (e.g. in embryonic development, immune response, and wound healing) which can go awry in diseases such as cancer. We highlight work applying electric fields and surface patterning to direct the collective migration of epithelial cells using galvanotaxis, in which surprisingly larger patches of cells respond more uniformly to electric fields. Such a platform may yield insights into or be co-opted to control tissue formation. We also describe recent results on developing a simple system to measure the migration of neutrophils in response to chemoattractants and on using this system to discriminate between neutrophils from asthmatic and non-asthmatic patients. Finally, a micropillar system is highlighted in which the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition is quantified at the single-cell level, and may aid in our understanding of the plastic process of progression to a malignant phenotype. Cell migration is a wonderfully complex process in which microscale systems can not only contribute to a better understanding, but might also improve its recording and manipulation for practical applications.