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Title: Microfluidic devices for the investigation of pluripotency in embryonic stem cells
Author: Hodgson, Andrew Christopher
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2017
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This thesis presents the development of microfluidic devices designed to facilitate research into mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs). ESCs are a well-studied cell, largely due to their pluripotent nature, meaning they are able to differentiate into all cell types of the body and may self-renew indefinitely in appropriate culture conditions. ESCs, along with many other lines of biological enquiry, are increasingly studied with the use of micro uidic technology which enables fine tuning of physical and chemical environments unachievable on the macro scale. Two varieties of microfluidic technology are presented in this thesis, one for high- resolution mechanical phenotyping of ESCs and the second as a novel in-chip culturing platform to study cellular transitions. Chapter 1 presents a broad introduction to ESCs and biological enquiry with microfluidics, aimed to underpin the following Chapters. Chapters 2 and 3 present self-contained projects, thus each include a motivation and introduction section more specific than that presented in Chapter 1. These Chapters also contain their own methods, results and conclusion sections. Finally, Chapter 4 presents a summary of the work performed along with an outlook of upcoming investigations. In Chapter 2, I present a microfluidic device developed and utilised in collaboration with Christophe Verstreken (Department of Physics, University of Cambridge), which has been used to apply a mechanical stress to live cells enabling measurement of their nuclear deformability. The device facilitates detection of both nucleus and cytoplasm which can then be analysed with a custom-written MATLAB code. Quantitative measurements of nuclear sizes and strains of ESCs indicated a negative Poisson ratio for nuclei of cells cultured in specific medium conditions. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the device can be used to physically phenotype at high-throughput by detecting changes in the nuclear response after treatment with actin depolymerising and chromatin decondensing agents. Finally, we show the device can be used for biologically relevant high-resolution confocal imaging of cells under compression. The work from this chapter is presented in Hodgson et al. [1]. In Chapter 3, I present a novel microfluidic platform developed in collaboration with Prof. Austin Smith and Dr Carla Mulas (Centre for Stem Cell Research, Cambridge). The developed platform enables individual ESCs to be cultured under continued observation as they exit their pluripotent stem cell state. Each cell within the device may be extracted from the chip at any time for further investigation without disturbing other cells. Assessing the transition from the stem cell state in individual cells is paramount if we are to understand the mechanisms of pluripotency.
Supervisor: Chalut, Kevin Sponsor: EPSRC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Microfluidics ; Embryonic Stem Cells ; Pluripotency