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Journal of Nanomaterials
Volume 2016, Article ID 8236539, 10 pages
Research Article

An Innovative Cell Microincubator for Drug Discovery Based on 3D Silicon Structures

1Istituto di Genetica Molecolare (IGM-CNR), 27100 Pavia, Italy
2Dipartimento di Biologia e Biotecnologie “L. Spallanzani”, Università di Pavia, 27100 Pavia, Italy
3Dipartimento di Ingegneria Industriale e dell’Informazione, Università di Pavia, 27100 Pavia, Italy
4Dipartimento di Ingegneria dell’Informazione, Università di Pisa, 56122 Pisa, Italy

Received 9 October 2015; Revised 3 January 2016; Accepted 13 January 2016

Academic Editor: Yu-Lun Chueh

Copyright © 2016 Francesca Aredia et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


We recently employed three-dimensional (3D) silicon microstructures (SMSs) consisting in arrays of 3 μm-thick silicon walls separated by 50 μm-deep, 5 μm-wide gaps, as microincubators for monitoring the biomechanical properties of tumor cells. They were here applied to investigate the in vitro behavior of HT1080 human fibrosarcoma cells driven to apoptosis by the chemotherapeutic drug Bleomycin. Our results, obtained by fluorescence microscopy, demonstrated that HT1080 cells exhibited a great ability to colonize the narrow gaps. Remarkably, HT1080 cells grown on 3D-SMS, when treated with the DNA damaging agent Bleomycin under conditions leading to apoptosis, tended to shrink, reducing their volume and mimicking the normal behavior of apoptotic cells, and were prone to leave the gaps. Finally, we performed label-free detection of cells adherent to the vertical silicon wall, inside the gap of 3D-SMS, by exploiting optical low coherence reflectometry using infrared, low power radiation. This kind of approach may become a new tool for increasing automation in the drug discovery area. Our results open new perspectives in view of future applications of the 3D-SMS as the core element of a lab-on-a-chip suitable for screening the effect of new molecules potentially able to kill tumor cells.