Biomaterials meet microfluidics: building the next generation of artificial niches
Biomaterials are increasingly being developed as in vitro microenvironments mimicking in vivo stem cell niches. However, current macroscale methodologies to produce these niche models fail to recapitulate the spatial and temporal characteristics of the complex native stem cell regulatory systems. Microfluidic technology offers unprecedented control over the spatial and temporal display of biological signals and therefore promises new avenues for stem cell niche engineering. Here we discuss how the two approaches can be combined to generate more physiological models of stem cell niches that could facilitate the identification of new mechanisms of stem cell regulation, profoundly impacting drug discovery and ultimately therapeutic applications of stem cells.
► Biomaterials technologies can be used at the macro-scale to generate simplistic in vitro stem cell microenvironments (‘niches’) lacking spatiotemporal control of cell signaling. ► A combination of microfluidic technology and biomaterials technology enables the recapitulation of the true spatial and temporal characteristics of complex native niches. ► Such artificial niches will facilitate the identification of new mechanisms of stem cell regulation, profoundly impacting drug discovery and ultimately therapeutic applications of stem cells.
Journal: Current Opinion in Biotechnology - Volume 22, Issue 5, October 2011, Pages 690–697