Sensor-based cellular microphysiometry is a technique that allows non-invasive, label-free, real-time monitoring of living cells that can greatly improve the predictability of toxicology testing by removing the influence of biochemical labels. In this work, the Intelligent Mobile Lab for In Vitro Diagnostics (IMOLA-IVD) was utilized to perform cellular microphysiometry on 3D multicellular spheroids. Using a commercial 3D printer, 3 × 3 microwell arrays were fabricated to maintain nine previously cultured HepG2 spheroids on a single BioChip. Integrated layers above and under the spheroids allowed fluidic contact between spheroids in microwells and BioChip sensors while preventing wash out from medium perfusion. Spheroid culturing protocols were optimized to grow spheroids to a diameter of around 620 μm prior to transfer onto BioChips. An ON/OFF pump cycling protocol was developed to optimize spheroid culture within the designed microwells, intermittently perfuse spheroids with fresh culture medium, and measure the extracellular acidification rate (EAR) and oxygen uptake rate (OUR) with the BioChips of the IMOLA-IVD platform. In a proof-of-concept experiment, spheroids were perfused for 36 h with cell culture medium before being exposed to medium with 1% sodium dodecyl sulphate (SDS) to lyse cells as a positive control. These microphysiometry studies revealed a repeatable pattern of extracellular acidification throughout the experiment, indicating the ability to monitor real-time metabolic activity of spheroids embedded in the newly designed tissue encapsulation. After perfusion for 36 h with medium, SDS exposure resulted in an instant decrease in EAR and OUR signals from 37 mV/h (± 5) to 8 mV/h (± 8) and from 308 mV/h (± 21) to −2 mV/h (± 13), respectively. The presented spheroid monitoring system holds great potential as a method to automate screening and analysis of pharmaceutical agents using 3D multicellular spheroid models.
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F. Alexander would like to thank the Whitaker International Program for their financial support of this work. The authors would also like to thank the Deutscher Tierschutzbund—Akademie für Tierschutz (German Animal Welfare Federation—Animal Welfare Academy).
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