Skin on Chip

Envisioned to study immune cell transmigration

Researchers at the U of M have been part of an interdisciplinary and international team whose work on a microfluidics-based 3D skin model has recently been published in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Lab on a Chip. The group’s skin-on-chip (SoC) model is envisioned to study immune cell transmigration (T cells specifically) and test novel skin disease treatments.

This is the first study that uses a SoC model to study T-cell transmigration in the presence of controlled chemical gradients that simulate skin inflammation. Structural optimizations in the design of individual microfluidic units meant that the resulting SoC could carefully control complex chemical gradients in three-dimensional conditions, effectively mimicking in vitro microenvironments during stimulated skin inflammation events. Using the SoC, the team was able to identify and quantify agents with significant inhibitory effects on T-cell trafficking, suggesting their potential therapeutic applications. Furthermore, inducers of T-cell transmigration were also determined. The team’s novel SoC has enhanced the advantages of microfluidics (notably the miniaturization of the constituting components) while maintaining a complex chemical presence – a challenge among previous microfluidic devices utilized for cell migration studies. There were a few areas of improvement, such as the use of cell-attachment-sensitive, time-unstable collagen gel, but the authors were positive about the SoC’s future. They projected their model to become a discovery tool for studies into T cell migration in complex chemical fields, as well as a screening tool that can aid in the development of potential drugs for skin diseases such as psoriasis.

The ideation and creation of the SoC were eclectic, involving investigators from multiple faculties right here at the U of M, i.e.  Francis Lin (Science), David Levin and Song Liu (Engineering), and Thomas Klonisch (Health Sciences). The leading author of this work is Xiaoou Ren, a Ph.D. student co-supervised by Lin and Levin since 2016. The SoC model development is a significant component of Xiaoou’s Ph.D. thesis, which he has successfully defended in early February of this year. A high school student (Jasmine Cheng, now a first year undergraduate student at U of M) also contributed research data to this SoC study from her Sanofi project conducted at U of M. The effort also benefited from collaborations with Winnipeg’s Victoria General Hospital (Susy Santos’ team) and scientists based in universities across the United States (Samuel Hwang and Min Zhao from the University of California-Davis; Brian Volkman and Anthony Getschman from the Medical College of Wisconsin) . The fruitful investigation is further proof of the indispensability of cross-discipline co-operation in scientific research.

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