Implementing oxygen control in chip-based cell and tissue culture systems
Oxygen is essential in the energy metabolism of cells, as well as being an important regulatory parameter influencing cell differentiation and function. Interest in precise oxygen control for in vitro cultures of tissues and cells continues to grow, especially with the emergence of the organ-on-a-chip and the desire to emulate in vivo conditions. This was recently discussed in this journal in a Critical Review by Brennan et al. (Lab Chip (2014). DOI: 10.1039/C4LC00853G). Microfluidics can be used to introduce flow to facilitate nutrient supply to and waste removal from in vitro culture systems. Well-defined oxygen gradients can also be established. However, cells can quickly alter the oxygen balance in their vicinity. In this Tutorial Review, we expand on the Brennan paper to focus on the implementation of oxygen analysis in these systems to achieve continuous monitoring. Both electrochemical and optical approaches for the integration of oxygen monitoring in microfluidic tissue and cell culture systems will be discussed. Differences in oxygen requirements from one organ to the next are a challenging problem, as oxygen delivery is limited by its uptake into medium. Hence, we discuss the factors determining oxygen concentrations in solutions and consider the possible use of artificial oxygen carriers to increase dissolved oxygen concentrations. The selection of device material for applications requiring precise oxygen control is discussed in detail, focusing on oxygen permeability. Lastly, a variety of devices is presented, showing the diversity of approaches that can be employed to control and monitor oxygen concentrations in in vitro experiments.