A key factor in gene or drug therapy is the development of carriers that can efficiently reach targeted cells from a distal administration. In many gene/drug delivery studies, results obtained in 2D cultures fail to translate to similar results in vivo. In this work, we developed a perfusable 3D chamber for studying nanoparticle penetration and transport in cell–gel soft tissue cultures. The compartmented chamber is made of a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) top layer with the chamber features, created using micromachined lithography, bonded to a bottom glass coverslip. A solution of cells embedded in a hydrogel is loaded in the chamber between PDMS posts that serve as anchors to the cell–matrix at the gel-media interface. The chamber offers the following unique features: (i) rapid fabrication and simplicity in assembly, (ii) direct in situ cell imaging in a plane normal to the direction of flow or action, (iii) an easily configurable and controllable environment conducive cell culture under static or interstitial flow conditions, and (iv) facile recovery of live cells from chambers for post-experimental analysis. To assess the chamber, we delivered fluorescently labeled nanoparticles of three distinct sizes to cells-embedded Matrigels in the 3D chamber under flow and static conditions. Penetration of nanoparticles were enhanced under interstitial flow while live cell imaging and flow cytometry of recovered cells revealed particle size restrictions to efficient delivery. Although designed for delivery studies, the chamber is versatile and can be easily modified. Thus it may have broad applications for biological, tissue engineering, and therapeutic studies. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2008;99: 1490–1501. © 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.