Growing liver cells using microchips
A new doctoral thesis at the University of Gothenburg demonstrates an advanced culture system for liver cells. The aim is to allow the use of the cultivated liver cells when studying liver diseases and developing new drugs.
The liver is one of our most important organs. When we take medication, regardless of whether it is pain relief, chemotherapy or any other medicine, the primary task of the liver is to break down the foreign substance.
“This makes it important for us to know how new drugs affect the liver,” says Philip Dalsbecker, author of the thesis.
Conventional cell cultures do not offer the right environment
Before being tested on humans, new drugs are usually tested on cells grown conventionally in Petri dishes. However, these cultured cells differ from a human liver in several important ways in terms of exactly how the medication is broken down.
“We need a better model system than for conventional cell cultures to study how new medicines affect the human liver, and this is where physics comes in.”
Develops a liver-like environment
The disadvantage of conventional cell cultures is that they are unable to mimic the environment that liver cells experience inside the body. When liver cells are grown conventionally in a Petri dish, they adapt to the new environment and function in a different way from what they do in the body.
“What we need, and this is what my research has been about, is to develop an environment in which liver cells can be grown that mimics the environment in the human liver as far as possible. This is possible thanks to microfluidics. Using methods similar to those used in the manufacture of microchips for our mobile phones, we can manufacture ducted systems with channels less than one tenth the width of a human hair, and structure them to create a favourable environment for liver cells.”
Building up structures that form a good environment for liver cells
To develop a favourable environment for liver cells, Philip Dalsbecker and his colleagues have built useful structures where liver cells can be grown.
“We can regulate the inflow and outflow of nutrient solution to the cells in these structures, the mechanical forces they experience, and much more purely based on the way the channels are structured. My research has been about producing, testing and refining these types of channel systems.”
The aim is to create an environment that is so similar to the liver that researchers can grow liver cells in it. These liver cells can then be used both for drug testing and for studies on the onset and treatment of various liver diseases.
“We continue our research on how to achieve this goal, but our preliminary results are very promising and show that stem cell-based liver cells can thrive and develop in my channel system.”
The researchers hope that their system will be able to be used for both disease studies and patient-specific drug development in the future.
Contact: Philip Dalsbecker (
Phone: +46 (0)70-3911414
Thesis title: Development and Applications of Microfluidic Devices for Liver-on-a-Chip Studies
Supervisor: Professor Mattias Goksör, Associate Professor Caroline Beck Adiels
Place where the research was carried out: Gothenburg (and Kista and Tampere)