New microfluidic tool replicates stem cell development in a lab

researchers looking at a clipboard in a laboratory

A new microfluidic tool could be used to duplicate within a laboratory the physiochemical environment needed to develop embryonic stem cells into organized tissue. The tool was developed by researchers at the University of Maine MicroInstruments and Systems Laboratory.

The team has used the device to culture a portion of a spinal cord on chip.

“During embryonic development, specific chemicals called morphogens direct stem cells to develop and organize into their appropriate tissues,” the announcement explained. “Using the new microdevice to duplicate that spatial distribution of morphogens in the laboratory results in the same tissue organization," says UMaine professor Scott Collins.


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The microfluidic chip has multiple culture chambers and interconnecting fluidic channels that generate morphogen distributions that are known to induce spinal cord development. Researchers made this chip using the same equipment and techniques used to make integrated circuits and computer chips.

Christopher Demers, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Francis Crick Institute in London, did this research as part of a UMaine doctoral dissertation. Demers noted that not all neural subtypes were fully expressed within the device, and therefore the exact embryo environment was not duplicated.

According to the announcement, researchers could use this device to study how cells make differentiation decisions during embryonic development. It could also potentially aid in studying “limb and organ regeneration, diagnostics and therapeutics for neuromuscular diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), spina bifida and anencephaly, as well as drug discovery and personalized medicine.”

- here is the release

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