Microfluidic device flow field characterization around tumor spheroids with tunable necrosis produced in an optimized off-chip process

James Baye, Casey Galvin, Amy Q. Shen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Tumor spheroids are a 3-D tumor model that holds promise for testing cancer therapies in vitro using microfluidic devices. Tailoring the properties of a tumor spheroid is critical for evaluating therapies over a broad range of possible indications. Using human colon cancer cells (HCT-116), we demonstrate controlled tumor spheroid growth rates by varying the number of cells initially seeded into microwell chambers. The presence of a necrotic core in the spheroids could be controlled by changing the glucose concentration of the incubation medium. This manipulation had no effect on the size of the tumor spheroids or hypoxia in the spheroid core, which has been predicted by a mathematical model in computer simulations of spheroid growth. Control over the presence of a necrotic core while maintaining other physical parameters of the spheroid presents an opportunity to assess the impact of core necrosis on therapy efficacy. Using micro-particle imaging velocimetry (micro-PIV), we characterize the hydrodynamics and mass transport of nanoparticles in tumor spheroids in a microfluidic device. We observe a geometrical dependence on the flow rate experienced by the tumor spheroid in the device, such that the “front” of the spheroid experiences a higher flow velocity than the “back” of the spheroid. Using fluorescent nanoparticles, we demonstrate a heterogeneous accumulation of nanoparticles at the tumor interface that correlates with the observed flow velocities. The penetration depth of these nanoparticles into the tumor spheroid depends on nanoparticle diameter, consistent with reports in the literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number59
JournalBiomedical Microdevices
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017


  • HCT-116 human colon cancer cells
  • Micro-PIV
  • Microfluidics
  • Necrotic core
  • Targeted delivery
  • Tumor spheroids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Molecular Biology


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