Published in: Nature Protocols Vol. 8 No. 11
‘Organs-on-chips’ are microengineered biomimetic systems containing microfluidic channels lined by living human cells, which replicate key functional units of living organs to reconstitute integrated human organ-level pathophysiology in vitro. These microdevices can be used to test efficacy and toxicity of drugs and chemicals, and to create in vitro models of human disease. Thus, they potentially represent low-cost alternatives to conventional animal models for pharmaceutical, chemical and environmental applications. Here we describe a protocol for the fabrication, microengineering and operation of these microfluidic organ-on-chip systems. First, microengineering is used to fabricate a multilayered microfluidic device that contains two parallel elastomeric microchannels separated by a thin porous flexible membrane, along with two full-height, hollow vacuum chambers on either side; this requires ~3.5 d to complete. To create a ‘breathing’ lung-on-a-chip that mimics the mechanically active alveolar-capillary interface of the living human lung, human alveolar epithelial cells and microvascular endothelial cells are cultured in the microdevice with physiological flow and cyclic suction applied to the side chambers to reproduce rhythmic breathing movements. We describe how this protocol can be easily adapted to develop other human organ chips, such as a gut-on-a-chip lined by human intestinal epithelial cells that experiences peristalsis-like motions and trickling fluid flow. Also, we discuss experimental techniques that can be used to analyze the cells in these organ-on-chip devices.