MicroMechCell: Precision micromechanical lever for next-generation cell culture systems

DISCLAIMER : The results reflect only the author’s point of view and that the EASME ( Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises ) is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

Cell culture systems do not reflect in vivo conditions. Cells are typically cultured on flat surfaces in petri dishes or flasks. Although these systems are very effective, they ignore the reality that cells in the body are surrounded by other cells and extracellular matrix and are constantly subjected to forces. Specific cells experience additional types of strain: muscle, heart and lung cells are under various types of repetitive strain, and the tumour environment is subjected to increased pressure. 


A system that is easy to use for cell culture under confinement is not yet commercially available, and a market study demonstrates that it can be useful either for researchers or for industrials. Therefore, creating an easy-to-use tool to confine cells with micrometer precision is a plus.

The cell confiner is a device that allows confining cells within two surfaces with micrometer precision. The space between the two surfaces if controlled by using micro polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) pillars. The micro pillars are fabricated in the top confining surface, a glass slide. The glass slide is attached to a PDMS structure that acts as a piston. This piston is controlled with a vacuum pump, and the height of the confinement is thus controlled as well. The device can be used in a Petri dish, in a glass substrate, etc.

The device has a second version that allows confining cells in a multi-well plate. In this one, the vacuum pump is not necessary, since the pressure system is based on a modified lid, containing PDMS blocks with the confinement slides on the extremity.

The cell confiner device can be used in a vast myriad of application, as described below:

  • To study cell dynamics triggered by /under mechanical effects:
  1. Migration
  2. Cell division
  3. Induce autophagy
  4. Mechanotransduction
  5. Mechanics of the nucleus
  6. Etc.
  • To do co-culture of cells
  • Use with special substrates – functionalized, micro patterned, etc.
  • Mimicking the natural cell environment
  •  Imaging
  • Cell counting

On the top of this, the cells can be retrieved and used in further studies and tests.

The technology to confine the cells is already available and validated (Le Berre et al., Int. Bio. 2012). However, the aim of the MicroMechCell project is to make the device viable for commercialization, through the development of a more reliable system.

Explore the potential of the confiner with 4Dcell!



Dr Ana Rita Ribeiro

Research Associate

  • PhD in Physics, INESC TEC and Univ. of Porto, specialization in optics.
  •  7 papers, 17 conference proceedings

Areas of expertise: Optical trapping and sensing using optical fibers. Biophysical systems for cell cultures

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