Improved in vitro models of human organs for predicting drug efficacy, interactions, and disease modelling are crucially needed to minimize the use of animal models, which inevitably display significant differences from the human disease state and metabolism. Inside the body, cells are organized either in direct contact or in close proximity to other cell types in a tightly controlled architecture that regulates tissue function. To emulate this cellular interface in vitro, an advanced cell culture system is required. In this paper, we describe a set of compartmentalized silicon-based microfluidic chips that enable co-culturing several types of cells in close proximity with enhanced cell–cell interaction. In vivo-like fluid flow into and/or from each compartment, as well as between adjacent compartments, is maintained by micro-engineered porous barriers. This porous structure provides a tool for mimicking the paracrine exchange between cells in the human body. As a demonstrating example, the microfluidic system was tested by culturing human adipose tissue that is infiltrated with immune cells to study the role if the interplay between the two cells in the context of type 2 diabetes. However, the system provides a platform technology for mimicking the structure and function of single- and multi-organ models, which could significantly narrow the gap between in vivo and in vitro conditions.
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