You are here

| Technology

Ultrabuoy Scaffolding Apparatus Permits Long-Term Hi-Res Cell Culture Monitoring

Review of “Sensor-Instrumented Scaffold Integrated with Microporous Sponge-like Ultrabuoy for Long-Term 3D Mapping of Cellular Behaviors and Functions” from ACS Nano by Stuart P. Atkinson

A new study from the laboratories of Dong Rip Kim (Hanyang University, Seoul, Republic of Korea) and Chi Hwan Lee (Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA) sought to develop a means to record cell behavior and function with high spatial and temporal resolution during an extended period in culture. They hope that real-time “hi-res” cell culture monitoring may accelerate biophysical studies and widen the scope of disease modeling. Furthermore, the application of this approach has huge relevance in the study of stem cell self-renewal, differentiation, and tissue engineering. 

Current problems relate to the development of a means to properly package the instrumentation required for the long-term reliable monitoring of cell function in a submerged three-dimensional (3D) culture environment [1]. However, in a recent ACS Nano study, Kim et al. reported on the development of a vertically-stackable electronic scaffold integrated within an engineered microporous sponge-like “ultrabuoy” as a means to provide an environment that can adequately support biological and electronic function [2].

The developed ultrabuoy floats on the culture medium; this keeps the electronic components for the vertically stackable multimodal arrays for the sensing elements in the air while the cells reside and grow underneath. This approach permits the incorporation of large numbers of sensors in a multidirectional arrangement, thereby allowing spatially resolved 3D mapping of cellular behavior and function (See a video of the utrafloatation capability of this system here).

As a proof of concept, the authors employed their new system to create a high-fidelity recording of electrical cell-substrate impedance and electrophysiological signals from cancer cells and cardiomyocytes over several weeks (See here for an example of the detection of the synchronized beating of a cardiomyocyte monolayer using a four-channel-multiplexed sensor scaffold array).

The authors note that their system may be expanded to the long-term stable monitoring of tissue functions during/after in vivo transplant to replace diseased or damaged tissues [3], a situation that may be helped by the development of a bioresorbable form of the monitoring system that would degrade harmlessly in the body following implantation and after a clinically useful period [4, 5]. Furthermore, the authors hope to move beyond impedance and electrophysiological sensing and develop a means to include more diverse sensing modalities, such as detection of pH, pressure, temperature, and mechanical strains. 

For more on the development of innovative approaches to long-term hi-res cell culture monitoring and the future development of the ultrabuoy scaffolding apparatus, stay tuned to the Stem Cells Portal.


  1. Bonk SM, Stubbe M, Buehler SM, et al., Design and Characterization of a Sensorized Microfluidic Cell-Culture System with Electro-Thermal Micro-Pumps and Sensors for Cell Adhesion, Oxygen, and pH on a Glass Chip. Biosensors 2015;5:513-36.
  2. Kim H, Kim MK, Jang H, et al., Sensor-Instrumented Scaffold Integrated with Microporous Spongelike Ultrabuoy for Long-Term 3D Mapping of Cellular Behaviors and Functions. ACS Nano 2019;13:7898-7904.
  3. O'Brien FJ, Biomaterials & scaffolds for tissue engineering. Materials Today 2011;14:88-95.
  4. Hwang S-W, Lee CH, Cheng H, et al., Biodegradable Elastomers and Silicon Nanomembranes/Nanoribbons for Stretchable, Transient Electronics, and Biosensors. Nano Letters 2015;15:2801-2808.
  5. Kang S-K, Murphy RKJ, Hwang S-W, et al., Bioresorbable silicon electronic sensors for the brain. Nature 2016;530:71.