New Microfluidic Technology Creates Microscale 3D Livers in a Droplet Interview with:

Prof. David A. Weitz Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Harvard University

Prof. David A. Weitz

Prof. David A. Weitz
Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Harvard University What is the background for this technology study? What are the main findings?

Response: Currently, it is very time-consuming and expensive to develop new drugs. One reason is that many drugs fail in clinical trials after animal studies, simply because animals are very different from humans. One promising means of solving this problem is to replace animal experiments with artificial human tissues that can be used to directly screen a drug. However, it is a challenge to construct artificial human tissues, as almost all human tissues are composed of multiple types of cells and extracellular matrices in 3D structures.

In our studies, we have successfully developed a droplet-based microfluidic technique to fabricate large numbers of monodisperse, portable microtissues. We spatially assemble different types of cells in a 3D core-shell structure and construct an artificial human microtissue in each individual drop. The specific structures we create in the microdoplets are designed to mimic the behavior of the liver, and hence we call these structures a ‘liver in a drop.’ What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Artificial microtissues are important for drug screening. Our studies show that droplet-based microfluidics is a very powerful technique to develop artificial 3D functional microtissues. Each artificial microtissue is a drop consisting of different cells confined in a 3D scaffold, which are able to express high-level organ-specific functions. The successful application of the organ-in-a-drop for drug screening could greatly shorten the time and lower the cost of drug development. These drop-based structures compliment the more well-known ‘organ on a chip’ structures, and provide a means for performing very high throughput screening of large numbers of, for example, drug candidates or drug treatments. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Droplet-based microfluidic technique offers a new opportunity to rapidly fabricate different types of artificial human microtissues for biomedical applications in the future. The hepatocytes and fibroblasts used in our research to construct artificial liver can be replaced by other types of cells to construct different tissue models. In addition, with the precise control of microfluidic technique, more sophisticated model of artificial human tissues can be developed. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: The concept of ‘organ-in-a-drop’ is a very promising new technology for drug screening and other applications. They can be fabricated in large quantity and can easily be handled. They represent an important opportunity for future studies.


Lab Chip. 2016 Apr 21;16(8):1346-9. doi: 10.1039/c6lc00231e.
Controlled assembly of heterotypic cells in a core-shell scaffold: organ in a droplet.
Chen Q1, Utech S2, Chen D2, Prodanovic R3, Lin JM4, Weitz DA2.

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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