Date of Award

Winter 2-2015

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mechanical Engineering


Philip LeDuc

Second Advisor

Lance A. Davidson

Third Advisor

William C. Messner


Most embryonic development and tissue self-assembly requires the integration of cell movements within multiple cell layers composed of different cell types, which are integrated with the signaling networks in these 3D environments. Although the role of cell mechanics in tissue self-assembly has been demonstrated, little is known about the mechanical responses of 3D multi-layer tissues to chemical cues. To investigate the collective movements within multilayered tissues, I developed a novel microfluidic technique capable of removing desired height or width of tissue from a composite tissue. I call this technique "3D tissue-etching" because it is analogous to techniques used in the microelectromechanics (MEMS) field where complex 3D structures are built by successively removing material from a monolithic solid through subtractive manufacturing. I used a custom-designed microfluidic control system to deliver a range of tissue etching reagents (detergents, chelators, proteases, etc.) to specific regions of multilayered tissues microsurgically isolated from embryos of the African Clawtoed frog, Xenopus laevis. Xenopus embryos and explanted tissues have long been used to elucidate signaling and other cellular processes during development and here provide an ideal model 3D tissue etching. Long exposure to a narrow etchant stream cuts completely through cell-cell layers to expose the substrate. By reducing the exposure time a single layer may be removed. By controlling the width of the etchant and the exposure time a broader swath of the surface layer may be removed. For more refined etching, after removal of a broad swath the resistance circuits can be switched and a second narrow stream can remove only a single narrow band within the swath exposed cells. I developed tissue-etching techniques that allow me to shape complex multi-layered embryonic tissues. The ability to control 3D stimulation and the form of multicellular tissues will provide extend the tools of tissue engineering to synthesize highly complex 3D integrated multicellular biosystems. Integration of tissue etching in my custom microfluidic system provides a "test-bed" where a range of hypotheses concerning the control and regulation of development and cell differentiation can be implemented and tested.