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Microfluidics

Microgels On Demand

Digital microfluidic method forms arrays of individually addressable hydrogel particles for tissue engineering

by Celia Henry Arnaud
March 3, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 9

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Credit: Adapted from Nat. Commun.
The shape of a microgel made by digital microfluidics depends on the shape of the hydrophilic site on the device surface.
09209-scicon-hydrophilicpatchcxd.jpg
Credit: Adapted from Nat. Commun.
The shape of a microgel made by digital microfluidics depends on the shape of the hydrophilic site on the device surface.

Most methods for forming hydrogels result in a collection of materials that have the same composition and aren’t individually addressable. To add flexibility to the fabrication method, Aaron R. Wheeler, Irwin A. Eydelnant, and Bingyu Betty Li of the University of Toronto have used a digital microfluidic system to make arrays of individually addressable hydrogel microparticles—so-called microgels—with arbitrary shape and composition (Nat. Commun. 2014, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4355). In digital microfluidics, reagent-filled droplets are manipulated on an open surface by applying electrical potentials to underlying electrodes. Wheeler and coworkers dispensed droplets of various gel-forming materials on the device surface to make particles with controllable shapes and compositions. The researchers used the arrays for the three-dimensional cell culture of kidney cells, which they kept alive for five days by periodically adding droplets of culture media to select microgel particles. “This work represents a significant advance in the fabrication and utility of microgel arrays,” says MIT’s Patrick A. Doyle, who also develops microparticle synthesis methods. “I see the work having a strong impact on the field of tissue engineering.”

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