THE APPLICATION OF MICRODEVICES FOR INVESTIGATING BIOLOGICAL SYSTEMS
Bentley, William E
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The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a complex ecosystem with cells from different kingdoms organized within dynamically-changing structures and engaged in complex communication through a network of molecular signaling pathways. One challenge for researchers is that the GI tract is largely inaccessible to experimental investigation. Even animal models have limited capabilities for revealing the rich spatiotemporal variation in the intestine and fail to predict human responses due to genetic variation. Exciting recent advances in in vitro organ model (i.e., organ-on- chips (OOC)) based on microfluidics are offering new hope that these experimental systems may be capable of recapitulating the complexities in structure and context inherent to the intestine. A current limitation to OOC systems is that while they can recapitulate structure and context, they do not yet offer capabilities to observe or engage in the molecular based signaling integral to the functioning of this complex biological system. This dissertation focuses on developing microfluidic tools that provide access to interrogating signaling events amongst populations in the GI tract (e.g., microbes and enterocytes). First, a membrane-based gradient generator is built to establish linear and stable chemical gradients for investigating gradient-mediated behaviors of bacteria. Specifically, this platform enables the study of bacterial chemotaxis and potentially facilitates the development of genetically rewired lesion-targeted probiotics. Second, “electrobiofabrication” is coupled with microelectronics, for the first time, to create molecular-to-electronic (i.e., “molectronic”) sensors to observe and report the dynamic exchange of biochemical information in OOC systems. Last, to address the issue of poor compatibility between OOCs and sensors, we assemble OOCs with molectronic sensors in a modular format. The concept of modularity greatly reduces the system complexity and enables sensors to be built immediately before applications, avoiding functional decay of active biorecognition components after long-term device storage and use. We envision this work will “open” OOC systems for molecular measurement and interrogation, which, in turn, will expand the in vitro toolbox that researchers can use to design, build and test for the investigation of GI disease and drug discovery.