Last month we had our biggest ever FluidicMEMS gathering of lab-on-a-chip folks as we heard Professor Robert Westervelt speak on programmable integrated circuit / microfluidic chips to manipulate biological cells and liquid droplets. Platforms like the one above could save time and money by automating resource-intensive biological tasks by individually trapping and moving large numbers of cells and droplets.
A PDMS microfluidic device for generation and dilution of two-dimensional combinatorial solution mixtures, integrated with a well array for cell storage and culture from the Khademhosseini lab at Harvard Medical School. See: http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2011/lc/c1lc20449a
Microfluidics could enable fundamentally new measurements at the cell/tissue level (not just faster, cheaper, or miniaturized versions of existing assays). In industry, this relates to what Fluidigm, CellAsic, and others are already doing.
“Dr. Manz believes there is growing interest and research on the use of microfluidic devices for cell-based studies. In contrast to the molecular diagnostics arena—in which “I have seen little that is revolutionary about microfluidics in the sense of obtaining fundamentally new information,” Dr. Manz points to new work from the fields of cell biology and tissue engineering.
Expiration of patents may encourage commercial development: Manz argues that the expiration of key microfluidics patents should free up the commercialization process.
Move toward easier-to-use systems: One form of this is the rise of simpler, paper-based, readerless chips (e.g., Diagnostics for All, Paul Yager’s initiatives). Others are developing systems with all sensing and control integrated into a single, easier-to-use device.
The orientation, size, geometry, layout, and pitch of microfluidic ports has many variations. Establishing a standard in this area will allow for lower cost, greater automation, improved compatibility, and minimizing re-engineering.
Following their recent acquisition by Opko, Claros Diagnostics is hiring! There are two exciting openings for Project Leaders in Assay Development, as they are expanding the development of new assays on their platform.
This is a terrific opportunity for industry veterans or qualified individuals looking to enter industry. Check them out here and here at the job board!
Great to see ~50 new and familiar faces from the Boston/New England lab-on-a-chip community gathered the first FluidicMEMS event this fall on November 14th at MIT! Thanks to extraordinary co-organizers A.J. Kumar and Joost Bonsen. We were generously sponsored by the MIT Alumni Association (thanks Katie Mahoney!) and Zeta Instruments.
This time I shared some thoughts on commercialization, and many interesting and intense discussions were had by all. We’ve got some exciting events planned for the winter and spring, so drop us a line if you’re interested in hearing about future events.
Quick video of Patrick Beattie from Diagnostics for All explaining how they’re using low-cost paper microfluidics to save lives at birth in the developing world. Specifically, DFA is developing a test for anemia and hyper/hypoglycemia, and a test for proteinuria to detect preeclampsia.
See other innovators working on saving lives at birth here and here.
Last week we heard more from Eileen Bartholomew of the XPRIZE Foundation about the anticipated 2012 announcement of the Tricorder XPRIZE. Named after the universal medical diagnostic from Star Trek, the device should allow consumers to diagnose themselves, enabling people to become “CEOs of their own health.” There’s a huge potential for microfluidics to be involved with a point-of-care device like this, especially since lab-on-a-chip systems could facilitate ease-of-use and require smaller sample volumes (e.g., a fingerprick of blood vs. a vial of blood that would need to be drawn by a professional).
Specs so far:
Usable by consumers without aid from medical professionals
Single device with the ability to diagnose 15 diseases: 12 core-set diseases + 3 elective-set diseases. Examples: Hypertension, urinary tract infection, sleep apnea, sexually transmitted illness (STI)
Diagnostic results within 3 days
Probably linked to a mobile device like a smartphone (note the contest is being underwritten by Qualcomm)
Expected prize announcement in 2012
Duration of competition expected to be ~ 3.5 years long
Will the XPRIZE motivate existing companies to collaborate? Currently many are struggling to launch a test that outputs one or two results, never mind 15. I also wonder how the 15 diseases chosen will affect marketing for the device. What if you’re a relatively healthy person who only needs 3 out of the 15 functions? Would you pay more for an all-in-one device like this, or are you more likely to buy individual tests based on your needs? How much use will be symptom-driven (urinary tract infection) vs. long-term monitoring of a known condition (hypertension) vs. screening (STIs)?
Recently I ran across this Stanford video of Gajus Worthington, co-founder and CEO of Fluidigm. Recorded in 2004, it’s a behind-the-scenes snapshot of the early years of the company, after they’d launched their first products (in protein crystallization) in 2003. Over the past decade Fluidigm has gone from fundraising to becoming a public company with a 2010 revenue of $33.6 million.
One quote grabbed me:
“We did this wrong, if you read the textbooks. You’re supposed to figure out what the market opportunity is, then you’re supposed to go out and find technology, and build a team, and all that kind of stuff. Right. We didn’t do it that way.
We did it, classically, the way you’re not supposed to, which is you find a technology, you get obsessed with it, and you go running around trying to figure out what can I do with it. Well I submit to you that that’s the way most technology companies work.
That’s the way it worked with the laser, that’s the way with lots of other components. You have some kind of technology, you get a bunch of smart people who are obsessed with it. And ultimately they find something useful they can do with it. It’d be nice to do it the other way, but unfortunately I really don’t know of any examples where that has transpired. ” — Gajus Worthington, CEO of Fluidigm
I tried thinking of biomedical technology companies that started with a market opportunity first, and then developed solutions. I couldn’t come up with any in the microfluidics space. (Although it is hard to know the backstory behind how companies match product and market.) Do you have any examples of a team starting with a problem, evaluating a range of solutions (microfluidic and non-microfluidic), choosing to go with microfluidics, and then building a microfluidics team?
In diffusible signaling, cells communicate with each other by secreting signaling molecules which diffuse into the surrounding liquid before being taken up by those same cells or neighboring cells via receptors. Cell signaling is especially important for stem cells because it can determine how a stem cell specializes into various tissue types. Traditionally cells are grown in Petri dishes in standing liquid. In these conditions, the chemical makeup of the environment around the cells is constantly changing as cells secrete and take up a complex array of signaling molecules. It has been challenging for biologists to experimentally probe the details of these closed-loop interactions: what molecules are secreted when, which cells receive the signals, and what effects do the signals have on the cell?
Enter microfluidics. This paper shows how microfluidics provide a new tool for biologists to interrogate diffusible signaling loops. The idea: for cells grown under continuous, non-recirculating microfluidic perfusion, most secreted signaling molecules are swept away before binding to nearby cells. This continuous clearing enables more strict control over the cell’s environment by allowing the researcher to specify what molecules are perfused into the cell culture. In engineering terms, you have more control over the inputs (signaling molecules) to the system (the cell).
Not only did Katarina show that continuous flow can disrupt diffusible signaling, she was able to uncover a specific biological result which suggests that FGF4 is not the only cell-secreted molecule needed for differentiation of the stem cells to neuroectoderm (cells that gives rise to our nervous system during development).
Blagovic, K., Kim, L. Y., Skelley, A. M., & Voldman, J., “Microfluidic control of stem cell diffusible signaling,” Micro Total Analysis Systems ’08 677-679, 2008. | Downoad PDF
K. Blagovic, S. P. Desai, and J. Voldman, “Micro-patterned polystyrene substrates for highly integrated microfluidic cell culture ” in Micro Total Analysis Systems 2009, Jeju, Korea, 2009, pp. 144-6. | Download PDF
a blog about microfluidics and bioMEMS technologies and how they can help solve real-world problems. Written by Lily Kim, a biomedical-engineer-turned-technology-strategist, FluidicMEMS covers new developments fresh from academia as well as the process of bringing these technologies into the world.