Microfluidics technology is characterized by the manipulation of small volumes of fluids (10-9 to 10-18 liters) in channels with dimensions of tens of micrometers. Certain properties of microfluidic technologies such as rapid sample processing and the precise control of fluids in an assay have made them attractive candidates that may replace traditional cell culture approaches.

Components of a Microfluidics system

A microfluidic system must have the following generic elements.

While there are a variety of approaches to manufacturing microfluidic devices, soft lithography of an organosilicon compound called poly-dimethylsiloxane (PDMS) is the standard for cell culture applications. Using this technique, structures of micrometer resolution are molded from a hard master into PDMS. Many advanced microfluidic chips use miniaturized micromechanical membrane valves made from PDMS to efficiently manipulate fluids at the microliter scale. These valves allow exact spatial and temporal control of fluid flow and delivery of media, drugs and signaling factors to live cells.

Microfluidic Cell Culture

Culturing and propagating cells in vitro is an expensive, time consuming and laborious task. With the advent of robotics, time-consuming, manual pipetting steps are eliminated which increase throughput and accuracy.

Recent insights from the emerging fields of quantitative and systems biology underscored the need for analyzing individual cells instead of merely bulk cell cultures. Because of natural cell-to-cell variability in biochemical parameters such as transcript and protein expression levels and the molecular noise, population-averaged bulk assays are often inaccurate or misleading. Hence, dynamic analysis of cells is crucial to understanding how biological systems operate.

In this regard, microfluidic cell culture allows controlling fluid flow in precisely defined geometries and facilitates simultaneous manipulation and analysis starting from a single cell level to larger cell populations and up to tissues cultured on fully integrated and automated chips.

When to use Microfluidic Cell Culture

Pros and Cons of Microfluidic cell culture

  • High degree of control over culture conditions
  • Dose delivery to cells can be measured up to femtoliters
  • Precise control of cell numbers and cell density
  • Allows greater control of cell placement and cell monitoring
  • Ability to culture cells in structures that mimic tissue organization
  • Hydrophobicity and porosity of PDMS results in material loss due to absorption of hydrophobic molecules such as lipids and small molecules
  • To prevent above problem, continual replacement of culture media becomes necessary
  • Increase in metabolite concentration due to faster consumption of nutrients
  • Toxicity due to PDMS

Applications of Microfluidic cell culture

Microfluidic technology is emerging as an invaluable tool that is finding applications in tissue engineering, diagnostics, drug screening, immunology, cancer research and stem cell biology. The following are current or potential applications of Microfluidic cell culture devices.


While microfluidics for cell culture is a valuable technique, it cannot yet be used to produce recombinant proteins. GenScript offers transient and stable mammalian cell expression systems for the production of high quality recombinant proteins. To get a quote for one of these services, click here.