Roger Kamm - Close encounters with 3-D cell growth
Engineers' new microfluidic device could help with drug development
Anne Trafton, News Office
December 16, 2008
MIT engineers have built a device that gives them an unprecedented view
of three-dimensional cell growth and migration, including the formation of
blood vessels and the spread of tumor cells.
The microfluidic device, imprinted on a square inch of plastic, could be
used to evaluate the potential side effects of drugs in development, or to
test the effectiveness of cancer drugs in individual patients.
Roger Kamm, MIT professor of biological and mechanical engineering, and
his colleagues reported their observations of angiogenesis -- the process
by which blood vessels are formed -- in the Oct. 31 online issue of the
journal Lab on a Chip.
Microfluidic devices have been widely used in recent years to study cells,
but most only allow for the study of cells growing on a flat (two-dimensional)
surface, or else lack the ability to observe and control cell behavior. With
the new device, researchers can observe cells in real time as they grow in
a three-dimensional collagen scaffold under precisely controlled chemical
or physical conditions.
Observing angiogenesis and other types of cell growth in three dimensions
is critical because that is how such growth normally occurs, said Kamm.
Working with researchers around MIT, Kamm has studied growth patterns
of many types of cells, including liver cells, stem cells and neurons. He has
also used the device to investigate the pressure buildup that causes
The device allows researchers to gain new insight into cell growth patterns. For example, the researchers observed that one type of breast cancer cell
tends to migrate in a uniform mass and induces new capillaries to sprout
aggressively toward the original tumor, while a type of brain cancer cell
breaks from the primary tumor and migrates individually but does not
promote capillary formation.
The system is configured so that researchers can manipulate and study
mechanical and biochemical factors that influence cell growth and
migration, including stiffness of the gel scaffold, concentration of growth
factors and other chemicals, and pressure gradients.
Two or three channels imprinted onto the plastic square contain either a
normal cell growth medium or a chemical under study, such as growth
factor. Cells growing in the scaffold between the channels are bathed in
chemicals from the channels, and the effect of the chemicals can be
evaluated based on various measures of cell function.
Kamm and his colleagues first described their microfluidic device in a
January 2007 paper in Lab on a Chip. Vernella Vickerman, a graduate
student in chemical engineering, and Seok Chung, a postdoctoral fellow in
biological engineering, played critical roles in developing the device, Kamm
The research was funded by Draper Laboratory.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 17, 2008 (download PDF). MIT News article.