Computerized microfluidic cell culture using elastomeric channels and Braille displays

Wei Gu, Xiaoyue Zhu, Nobuyuki Futai, Brenda S. Cho, Shuichi Takayama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

358 Citations (Scopus)


Computer-controlled microfluidics would advance many types of cellular assays and microscale tissue engineering studies wherever spatiotemporal changes in fluidics need to be defined. However, this goal has been elusive because of the limited availability of integrated, programmable pumps and valves. This paper demonstrates how a refreshable Braille display, with its grid of 320 vertically moving pins, can power integrated pumps and valves through localized deformations of channel networks within elastic silicone rubber. The resulting computerized fluidic control is able to switch among: (i) rapid and efficient mixing between streams, (ii) multiple laminar flows with minimal mixing between streams, and (iii) segmented plug-flow of immiscible fluids within the same channel architecture. The same control method is used to precisely seed cells, compartmentalize them into distinct subpopulations through channel reconfiguration, and culture each cell subpopulation for up to 3 weeks under perfusion. These reliable microscale cell cultures showed gradients of cellular behavior from C2C12 myoblasts along channel lengths, as well as differences in cell density of undifferentiated myoblasts and differentiation patterns, both programmable through different flow rates of serum-containing media. This technology will allow future microscale tissue or cell studies to be more accessible, especially for high-throughput, complex, and long-term experiments. The microfluidic actuation method described is versatile and computer programmable, yet simple, well packaged, and portable enough for personal use.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15861-15866
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number45
Publication statusPublished - 2004 Nov 9
Externally publishedYes


  • Bioreactor
  • Mixer
  • Perfusion
  • Pump
  • Valve

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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