Microtechnology offers great prospects for cellular research by enabling controlled experimental conditions that cannot be achieved by traditional methods. This study demonstrates the use of a microfluidic platform for long-term cultivation (3 weeks) of human mesenchymal stem-like cells (MSCs), a cell population of high interest for tissue engineering. The typical high motility of the MSCs required a strategy for preventing cells from inhabiting the feeding channels and thus interfere with a steady perfusion of medium to the cell cultivation chamber. Hence, a straightforward and long-term patterning method was developed and implemented for reliable cell positioning within the device. This method was based on the modification of a polystyrene substrate into cell supportive and non-supportive regions by the use of selective oxygen plasma treatment and the triblock copolymer Pluronic. Also, a novel and size-effective “flip-chip” set-up for operating the devices was invented. Successful and reproducible adipogenic and osteogenic differentiation of MSCs in the device was demonstrated, verifying that an adequate long-term microfluidic cultivation environment was obtained. Strengths of the experimental protocol include ease of fabrication and maintenance (gravity driven), good cell performance (viability/differentiation), as well as the possibility of exposing the culture to heterogeneous laminar flow for experimental purposes.
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