In vitro studies of vascular physiology have traditionally relied on cultures of endothelial cells, smooth muscle cells, and pericytes grown on centimeter-scale plates, filters, and flow chambers. The introduction of microfluidic tools has revolutionized the study of vascular physiology by allowing researchers to create physiologically relevant culture models, at the same time greatly reducing the consumption of expensive reagents. By taking advantage of the small dimensions and laminar flow inherent in microfluidic systems, recent studies have created in vitro models that reproduce many features of the in vivo vascular microenvironment with fine spatial and temporal resolution. In this review, we highlight the advantages of microfluidics in four areas: the investigation of hemodynamics on a capillary length scale, the modulation of fluid streams over vascular cells, angiogenesis induced by the exposure of vascular cells to well-defined gradients in growth factors or pressure, and the growth of microvascular networks in biomaterials. Such unique capabilities at the microscale are rapidly advancing the understanding of microcirculatory dynamics, shear responses, and angiogenesis in health and disease as well as the ability to create in vivo–like blood vessels in vitro.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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