In Vitro Models for Studying Transport Across Epithelial Tissue Barriers

  • Navein Arumugasaamy
  • Javier Navarro
  • J. Kent Leach
  • Peter C. W. Kim
  • John P. Fisher


Epithelial barriers are the body’s natural defense system to regulating passage from one domain to another. In our efforts to understand what can and cannot cross these barriers, models have emerged as a reductionist approach to rigorously study and investigate this question. In particular, in vitro tissue models have become prominent as there is an increased exploration of understanding biological molecular transport. Herein, we introduce the pertinent physiology, then discuss recent studies and approaches for building models of five epithelial tissues: skin, the gastrointestinal tract, the lungs, the blood–brain barrier, and the placenta. In particular, we evaluated literature from the past 5 years utilizing a tissue model to evaluate molecular transport. We then compare physiology of these tissues and discuss similarities in approaches, across tissues, to validate these models. We conclude with a summary of the approaches of growing interest across multiple tissues and an outlook on future steps to improve these models.


Tissue model In vitro model Epithelial Transport Skin GI tract Blood–brain barrier Alveolar-capillary barrier Placental barrier 



This work was supported by a seed grant from the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National Medical Center and the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland. J.N. acknowledges and thanks support from the Fulbright Scholars Program. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of these funding sources.

Conflict of interest

None of the authors have competing interests with the work presented herein.


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Copyright information

© Biomedical Engineering Society 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Navein Arumugasaamy
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Javier Navarro
    • 1
    • 2
  • J. Kent Leach
    • 4
  • Peter C. W. Kim
    • 3
    • 5
  • John P. Fisher
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Fischell Department of BioengineeringUniversity of Maryland, College ParkCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.Center for Engineering Complex TissuesUniversity of Maryland, College ParkCollege ParkUSA
  3. 3.Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation, Children’s National Health SystemWashingtonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biomedical EngineeringUniversity of California, DavisDavisUSA
  5. 5.School of Medicine and Health SciencesThe George Washington UniversityWashingtonUSA

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