Hydrogel microfluidics for the patterning of pluripotent stem cells
Biomolecular signaling is of utmost importance in governing many biological processes such as the patterning of the developing embryo where biomolecules regulate key cell-fate decisions. In vivo, these factors are presented in a spatiotemporally tightly controlled fashion. Although state-of-the-art microfluidic technologies allow precise biomolecule delivery in time and space, long-term (stem) cell culture at the micro-scale is often far from ideal due to medium evaporation, limited space for cell growth or shear stress. To overcome these challenges, we here introduce a concept based on hydrogel microfluidics for decoupling conventional, macro-scale cell culture from precise biomolecule delivery through a gel layer. We demonstrate the spatiotemporally controlled neuronal commitment of mouse embryonic stem cells via delivery of retinoic acid gradients. This technique should be useful for testing the effect of dose and timing of biomolecules, singly or in combination, on stem cell fate.