Imaging live cells at high spatiotemporal resolution for lab-on-a-chip applications
Conventional optical imaging techniques are limited by the diffraction limit and difficult-to-image biomolecular and sub-cellular processes in living specimens. Novel optical imaging techniques are constantly evolving with the desire to innovate an imaging tool that is capable of seeing sub-cellular processes in a biological system, especially in three dimensions (3D) over time, i.e. 4D imaging. For fluorescence imaging on live cells, the trade-offs among imaging depth, spatial resolution, temporal resolution and photo-damage are constrained based on the limited photons of the emitters. The fundamental solution to solve this dilemma is to enlarge the photon bank such as the development of photostable and bright fluorophores, leading to the innovation in optical imaging techniques such as super-resolution microscopy and light sheet microscopy. With the synergy of microfluidic technology that is capable of manipulating biological cells and controlling their microenvironments to mimic in vivo physiological environments, studies of sub-cellular processes in various biological systems can be simplified and investigated systematically. In this review, we provide an overview of current state-of-the-art super-resolution and 3D live cell imaging techniques and their lab-on-a-chip applications, and finally discuss future research trends in new and breakthrough research areas of live specimen 4D imaging in controlled 3D microenvironments.