Adv Funct Mater. 2021 Oct 26;31(44):2009946. doi: 10.1002/adfm.202009946. Epub 2021 Mar 26.
Cell encapsulation within hydrogel droplets is transforming what is feasible in multiple fields of biomedical science such as tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, in vitro modeling, and cell-based therapies. Recent advances have allowed researchers to miniaturize material encapsulation complexes down to single-cell scales, where each complex, termed a single-cell microgel, contains only one cell surrounded by a hydrogel matrix while remaining <100 μm in size. With this achievement, studies requiring single-cell resolution are now possible, similar to those done using liquid droplet encapsulation. Of particular note, applications involving long-term in vitro cultures, modular bioinks, high-throughput screenings, and formation of 3D cellular microenvironments can be tuned independently to suit the needs of individual cells and experimental goals. In this progress report, an overview of established materials and techniques used to fabricate single-cell microgels, as well as insight into potential alternatives is provided. This focused review is concluded by discussing applications that have already benefited from single-cell microgel technologies, as well as prospective applications on the cusp of achieving important new capabilities.