• microfluidic hydrogels;
  • tissue engineering;
  • helical microchannels;
  • diffusion


Cell-laden microfluidic hydrogels find great potential applications in microfluidics, tissue engineering, and drug delivery, due to their ability to control mass transport and cell microenvironment. A variety of methods have been developed to fabricate hydrogels with microfluidic channels, such as molding, bioprinting, and photopatterning. However, the relatively simple structure available and the specific equipment required limit their broad applications in tissue engineering. Here, we developed a simple method to fabricate microfluidic hydrogels with helical microchannels based on a helical spring template. Results from both experimental investigation and numerical modeling revealed a significant enhancement on the perfusion ability and cell viability of helical microfluidic hydrogels compared to those with straight microchannels. The feasibility of such a helical spring template method was also demonstrated for microfluidic hydrogels with complex three-dimensional channel networks such as branched helical microchannels. The method presented here could potentially facilitate the development of vascular tissue engineering and cell microenvironment engineering. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2013; 110: 980–989. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.