Many biological studies, drug screening methods, and cellular therapies require culture and manipulation of living cells outside of their natural environment in the body. The gap between the cellular microenvironment in vivo and in vitro, however, poses challenges for obtaining physiologically relevant responses from cells used in basic biological studies or drug screens and for drawing out the maximum functional potential from cells used therapeutically. One of the reasons for this gap is because the fluidic environment of mammalian cells in vivo is microscale and dynamic whereas typical in vitro cultures are macroscopic and static. This presentation will give an overview of efforts in our laboratory to develop programmable microfluidic systems that enable spatio-temporal control of both the chemical and fluid mechanical environment of cells. The technologies and methods close the physiology gap to provide biological information otherwise unobtainable and to enhance cellular performance in therapeutic applications. Specific biomedical topics that will be discussed include subcellular signalling in normal and cancer cells, in vitro fertilization on a chip, studies of the effect of physiological and pathological fluid mechanical stresses on endothelial and epithelial cells, and microfluidic stem cell engineering. In the nanoscale regime, tunable nanochannels that can manipulate single DNA molecules will be discussed.

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