Microfluidics for Cell Biology

The Advantages of Flow Control for Cell biology and Microscopy

Cell biology remains at the heart of medical science and innovation. Understanding how cells will react in the event of an infection or in other pathological contexts helps discover new treatments in various diseases. When working with cells, it’s important to be able to analyze and image their behavior. For this reason, microscopy and imaging technologies are an indispensable tool. In cell biology microfluidics, the precise flow control of fluids combines microscopy tools and cell biology experiments into an automated platform where the cell can grow into the physiological relevant environment. Furthermore, with the use of microfluidics for cell biology, it is possible to automate fluid delivery at a different controlled flow rate that limits error manipulation.
Main benefits
  • Shear stress control
  • Automation of multiple fluid delivery
  • Long term perfusion

Microfluidics for Cell Biology: Main Applications

Microfluidics for Cell Biology and DNA hibridization

RNA and DNA Hybridization

For decades, in situ hybridization has been used with greater frequency to capture the localization, structure and expression of specific DNA and RNA sequences within tissues. The high sensitivity and specificity of this technique relies on the hybridization of labelled oligonucleotide probes to targeted DNA or RNA sequences within tissues. Chromosomal microdeletion, amplification, structure, translocation and expression can be easily detected. Compared to PCR analysis, Northern Blotting or a DNA microarray performed on lysed cells, hybridization provides spatial information as specific RNA and DNA are detected within tissues. It has significantly improved gene mapping, cytogenetics and various diagnostic techniques (oncogenic, prenatal, viral infection, etc.).

Recently, with the use of microfluidics for cell biology, a temporal dimension was added to the technology, as it further evolved to be performed on living cells. The spatio-temporal expression, degradation and storage of RNA molecules can now be thoroughly investigated by real time imaging of the hybridization of labelled oligonucleotides in living cells.

Microfluidics for Cell Biology and Long term perfusion

Drug Combination and Long-Term Perfusion

In various therapeutic areas (glaucoma, vascular, HIV, oncology), a combination of drugs is typically found to be more effective for disease treatment. Oncology, in particular, has  paved the way for this approach. The emergence of next-generation sequencing technology profiling has revealed the heterogeneity in many cancers at the origin of the differential response to treatment. As a result, therapeutic strategies are evolving towards multi-targeted drug combinations that effectively inhibit the cancer cells and block the emergence of drug resistance while selectively incurring minimal side effects on healthy cells.

Drug combination therapy is not straight forward as in many cases the results do not equal the sum of the parts. Cross-reactions are observed and fall into 5 categories: low risk & synergy, low risk & no synergy, caution, unsafe, and dangerous. The contribution and dosage of each active molecule should be closely investigated in terms of dose, frequency and duration to evaluate the efficacy of the drug combination.

Therefore, cell biology microfluidics holds great promise in cancer diagnosis and also serves as an emerging tool for understanding cancer biology. Microfluidics can be a valuable tool in cancer investigation due to its high sensitivity, high throughput, less material-consumption, low cost, and enhanced spatio-temporal control.

Microfluidics for Cell Biology and immunostaining


Immunostaining experiments are mult-istep protocols to detect specific antigens in biological samples. The sample is successively incubated or exposed to fixation agents, washing buffers, and probes.

In conventional protocols on petri dishes or well plates, fluid deliveries are performed manually using pipettes. Solutions are directly added to the sample.

Transferring protocols from a Petri dish to a microfluidic format usually requires some minor adjustments, as cells or tissue samples are exposed to solutions differently. Therefore, the use of microfluidics in cell biology provides many advantages by replacing the use of Petri dishes with microfluidic chambers (closed systems). Consequently, solutions cannot be deposited directly on the top of the cells but are perfused over the sample at a controlled flow rate, reaching all cells homogeneously. The use of a rotary valve with a perfusion system enables one to perfuse different solutions at given time points in the chip or chamber. In addition, automating the sequential delivery of solutions saves time and avoids creating bubbles inside the chips by disconnecting and reconnecting the traditional pump to the chip.

Microfluidics for Cell Biology and Flow Control

In drug discovery, it‘s important to control the flow rate of the sample used. As multiple formulations are tested, experimenters must  be able to control flow rate while keeping the same level control of fluid handling at each stage of the experiment. DNA and RNA hybridization are often performed under a microscope. Manual injection over a microscope can be risky for the following reasons:

  • a touch of pipette cone can misplace the dish and misrecord the position
  • samples can be flushed away during pipetting
  • liquid can be spilled over the microscope
flow controller on the market

Flow Controllers Available on the Market

Syringe Pumps

Multiple flow control technologies are available for sub-millimeter range fluid management. Syringe pumps are commonly used for fluid control.  However, in microfluidics, the use of syringe pumps is often problematic because the flow is not constant. This discontinuity is due to the mechanical system that creates an oscillating flow. 

Manual Injection

Current methods for multiple fluid delivery, where microscopy techniques are simultaneously required  and mostly made by manual pipetting action include , Immunolabeling, and DNA and RNA hybridization.. Manual injection can lead to uncontrolled and non-homogeneous fluid velocity, which can damage samples.

Fluigent Pressure-Based Flow Control

As the demand for microfluidic pumps with higher flow stability, fast response time, versatility, and automation capabilities has increased, pressure controllers have become the device of choice for many users. 

The working principle of such pumps is to pressurize the sample reservoirs to control the pressure drop between the inlet and the outlet of the microfluidic system.  The responsiveness of the generated flow rate depends on the responsiveness of the pressure pump.

To overcome these issues, Fluigent’s Aria automates multiple fluid deliveries. The sample is preserved as the flow rate is controlled. Reproducibility increases as inter and intra operator variability are eliminated.

Microfluidics for Cell Biology and stability response time

For more information or a technical discussion

Contact us