Vacuum-assisted cell loading enables shear-free mammalian microfluidic culture†
Microfluidic perfusion cultures for mammalian cells provide a novel means for probing single-cell behavior but require the management of culture parameters such as flow-induced shear stress. Methods to eliminate shear stress generally focus on capturing cells in regions with high resistance to fluid flow. Here, we present a novel trapping design to easily and reliably load a high density of cells into culture chambers that are extremely isolated from potentially damaging flow effects. We utilize a transient on-chip vacuum to remove air from the culture chambers and rapidly replace the volume with a liquid cell suspension. We demonstrate the ability of this simple and robust method to load and culture three commonly used cell lines. We show how the incorporation of an on-chip function generator can be used for dynamic stimulation of cells during long-term continuous perfusion culture.