Researching Cancer Cell Migration Strategies in Microfluidic Devices

  • Chemical Engineering: Ruben Boot / Pouyan Boukany
  • Bionanoscience: Anouk van der Net / Gijsje Koenderink

In contrast to healthy cells, cancer cells can adapt different migration modes to overcome physical constraints imposed by healthy tissue surrounding the tumor. Invasive, malignant cancer cells can for example switch from single-cell migration to collective cluster migration when encountering highly confining extracellular matrix. Although cluster formation increases the physical challenges of migration, cancer cell clusters have a higher bloodstream survival rate and lead to more metastatic colony formations than cells that migrate individually. However, it is not well understood how malignant cells switch migration mode, and the mechanisms that contribute to the effective migration of cancer cell clusters in dense tissues and the bloodstream are not well known.  

To research this, we will combine novel microfluidic platforms with live-cell confocal fluorescent microscopy, to elucidate intracellular mechanisms during different cancer cell migration modes. The microfluidic devices will be designed to induce passive (induced by flow) and active (induced by chemotactic gradient) migration of cancer cells through confining chambers and channels. By using  live-cell imaging techniques, we will visualize the effect of these conditions on migration strategies, deformations and intracellular structures such as the nucleus and cytoskeletal filaments of single cells and cell clusters. 

In this interdisciplinary project you will learn how to design and fabricate microfluidic devices, and how to optimize important experiment parameters. Next to this, you will learn how to culture several (cancer) cell lines and perform live-cell imaging with an advanced laser-scanner confocal microscopy. Furthermore, you will learn to process microscopy images and time-lapses to analyse migration strategies under the different conditions. 


Anouk van der Net (

Ruben Boot (