Development of a microfluidic platform for multicellular tumour spheroid assays

  • Kay McMillan

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Microfluidics is a valuable technology for a variety of different biomedical applications. In particular, within cancer research, it can be used to improve upon currently used in vitro screening assays by facilitating the use of 3D cell culture models. One of these models is the multicellular tumour spheroid (MCTS), which provides a more accurate reflection of the tumour microenvironment in vivo by reproducing the cell to cell contact, the development of a nutritional gradient and the formation of a heterogeneous population of cells. Therefore, the MCTS provides a more physiologically relevant in vitro model for testing the efficacy of treatments at the preclinical level. Currently, methods for the formation and culture of spheroids have several limitations, including being labour intensive, being low throughput, producing shear stress towards cells and the hanging drop system being unstable to physical shocks. Recently, microfluidics (especially droplet microfluidics) has been employed for the culture and screening of spheroids, providing a high-throughput methodology which only requires small volumes of fluids and small numbers of cells. However, current issues with droplet microfluidics include complicated droplet gelation procedures and short cell culture times.In this thesis, the use of microfluidic technologies as an approach for spheroid formation and culture are investigated with the aim to create a platform for radiotherapeutic and chemotherapeutic treatment of spheroids using cell lines. Initially, the use of emulsion technology at the macro scale was evaluated to determine the best conditions for spheroid culture. Once this was achieved the spheroids were compared to spheroids using a traditional method and radiotherapeutic treatment was conducted. Subsequently, avenues for miniaturising the developed emulsion-based methods were studied to provide a microfluidic technology. Finally, along with identifying the optimal culture conditions using hydrogels, a microfluidic system that integrated both droplet and single phase microfluidics features was developed for the formation and culture of spheroids. Using the latter, proof of principle experiments were conducted to demonstrate the suitability of the platform for both chemotherapeutic and radiotherapeutic assays within the same device.
Date of Award23 Jan 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SponsorsEPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council)
SupervisorMichele Zagnoni (Supervisor) & Marie Boyd (Supervisor)

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