3D liver models on a microplatform: well-defined culture, engineering of liver tissue and liver-on-a-chip
The liver, the largest organ in the human body, is a multi-functional organ with diverse metabolic activities that plays a critical role in maintaining the body and sustaining life. Although the liver has excellent regenerative and recuperative properties, damages caused by chronic liver diseases or viral infection may lead to permanent loss of liver functions. Studies of liver disease mechanism have focused on drug screening and liver tissue engineering techniques, including strategies based on in vitro models. However, conventional liver models are plagued by a number of limitations, which have motivated the development of ‘liver-on-a-chip’ and microplatform-based bioreactors that can provide well-defined microenvironments. Microtechnology is a promising tool for liver tissue engineering and liver system development, as it can mimic the complex in vivo microenvironment and microlevel ultrastructure, by using a small number of human cells under two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) culture conditions. These systems provided by microtechnology allow improved liver-specific functions and can be expanded to encompass diverse 3D culture methods, which are critical for the maintenance of liver functions and recapitulation of the features of the native liver. In this review, we provide an overview of microtechnologies that have been used for liver studies, describe biomimetic technologies for constructing microscale 2D and 3D liver models as well as liver-on-a-chip systems and microscale bioreactors, and introduce applications of liver microtechnology and future trends in the field.