NutriChip: Nutrition Analysis meets Microfluidics
This focus article introduces the concept of NutriChip, an integrated microfluidic platform for investigating the potential of the immuno-modulatory function of dairy food. The core component of the NutriChip is a miniaturized artificial human gastrointestinal tract (GIT), which consists of a confluent layer of epithelial cells separated from a co-culture of immune cells by a permeable membrane. This setting creates conditions mimicking the human GIT and allows studying processes that characterize the passage of nutrients though the human GIT, including the activation of immune cells in response to the transfer of nutrients across the epithelial layer. The NutriChip project started by developing a biologically active in vitro cellular system in a commercial Transwell co-culture system. This Transwell system serves as a reference for the micro-scale device which is being developed. The microfluidic setup of NutriChip allows monitoring of the response of immune cells to pro-inflammatory stimuli, such as lipid polysaccharide (LPS), and to the application of potentially anti-inflammatory dairy food. This differential response will be quantified by measuring the variation in expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines, including interleukin 1 (IL-1) and interleukin 6 (IL-6), secreted by the immune cells, and this is achieved by using a dedicated optical imager. A series of dairy products will be screened for their anti-inflammatory properties using the NutriChip system and, finally, the outcome of the NutriChip will be validated by a human nutrition trial. Therefore, the NutriChip platform offers a new option to evaluate the influence of food quality on health, by monitoring the expression of relevant immune cell biomarkers.