Integration of Electrospun Membranes into Low-Absorption Thermoplastic Organ-on-Chip
In recent years, organ-on-chip (OoC) systems have provoked increasing interest among researchers from different disciplines. OoCs enable the recreation of in vivo-like microenvironments and the generation of a wide range of different tissues or organs in a miniaturized way. Most commonly, OoC platforms are based on microfluidic modules made of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS). While advantageous in terms of biocompatibility, oxygen permeability, and fast prototyping amenability, PDMS features a major limitation as it absorbs small hydrophobic molecules, including many types of test compounds, hormones, and cytokines. Another common feature of OoC systems is the integration of membranes (i) to separate different tissue compartments, (ii) to confine convective perfusion to media channels, and/or (iii) to provide mechanical support for cell monolayers. Typically, porous polymer membranes are microstructured using track-etching (e.g., polyethylene terephthalate; PET) or lithography (e.g., PDMS). Although membranes of different biomechanical properties (rigid PET to elastic PDMS) have been utilized, the membrane structure and material remain mostly artificial and do not resemble in vivo conditions (extracellular matrix). Here, we report a method for the reliable fabrication and integration of electrospun membranes in OoC modules, which are made of laser-structured poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA). The choice of PMMA as base material provides optical parameters and biocompatibility similar to PDMS while avoiding the absorption problem. Using electrospinning for the generation of 3D membranes, microenvironments resembling the native extracellular matrix (ECM) can be generated. We tested two different kinds of electrospun membranes and established processes for a tight integration into PMMA modules. Human (microvasculature) endothelial as well as (retinal pigment) epithelial cell layers could be successfully cultured inside the systems for up to 7 days, while being either directly exposed to (endothelial cells) or protected (epithelial cells) from the shear flow. Our novel method enables the versatile fabrication of OoC platforms that can be tailored to the native environment of tissues of interest and at the same time are applicable for the testing of compounds or chemicals without constraints.