Robert Westervelt speaks at FluidicMEMS Dec 2011: Making cells dance!

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 huge thanks to co-organizers A.J. Kumar and Joost Bonsen, sponsor Maine Manufacturing and co-sponsor uFluidix for making the event possible. We were generously hosted by Microsoft at its New England Research & Development (N.E.R.D.) Center in Cambridge.  If you’re interested in participating in or sponsoring an event like this, please drop us a line.

P1020401 1024x768 Robert Westervelt speaks at FluidicMEMS Dec 2011: Making cells dance!

Professor Westervelt tells us about integrated circuit microfluidic chips.

P1020374 1024x768 Robert Westervelt speaks at FluidicMEMS Dec 2011: Making cells dance!

Academic / medical / startup / industry crowd mingles.

FluidicMEMSOrganizersDec2011 1024x768 Robert Westervelt speaks at FluidicMEMS Dec 2011: Making cells dance!

FluidicMEMS organizers: A.J. Kumar, Lily Kim, and Joost Bonsen

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An optimistic outlook on microfluidics commercialization — are hurdles being cleared?

HarvardMed P10406111392371867 An optimistic outlook on microfluidics commercialization     are hurdles being cleared?

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:

Interesting article spotted by Mehmet Dokmeci in Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News on “Microfluidics Making Bigger Impression.” The article touches on commercialization and research trends, including the following themes:

  • 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.
  • Flurry of recent acquisitions is encouraging: There has definitely been a cluster of acquisitions over the past year, even more than mentioned in the article (e.g., Biocius acquisition by Agilent, Claros Diagnostics acquired by Opko).  This may encourage more investment, fueling industry growth.
  • 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.
Check it out here.
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Want to help shape future microfluidics standards? Take part in this SEMI survey.

SEMI Standards Logo Want to help shape future microfluidics standards? Take part in this SEMI survey.

In the world of microelectronics, standards are well-established and have helped the industry take off. Over the past few years, people have mentioned the idea of microfluidics standards more and more often, and the European microfluidics community has started discussing the issue. Are these beginning signs of industry growth and maturation?

In line with this, Mark Crockett, Chair of the SEMI MEMS/NEMS Microfluidics Task Force, is leading an effort to identify needs for microfluidics standards:

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.

This is a great opportunity to give input on what matters to you in microfluidics standards. To reach the survey, click here:

The results of the survey will be posted on this blog and on the SEMI website in January.

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New job posts from Claros!

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!

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Update from the FluidicMEMS gathering Nov 14 2011

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.

FluidicMEMSNov2011 1024x768 Update from the FluidicMEMS gathering Nov 14 2011

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.

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BioMEMS symposium at the MRS conference

f11 150 135 BioMEMS symposium at the MRS conference The next Materials Research Society (MRS) Conference in Boston is at the end of the month, and the lineup for the Symposium II: BioMEMS Material and Devices (Nov 28 – Dec 1) looks fantastic.

Topics range widely, including BioMEMS, microfluidics for cell culture, CTC capture, implantable devices, biosensors, and tools for cell mechanics.  Talks include:

  • Microfluidic Technology for Building and Handling 3D Tissue Structures. Shoji Takeuchi
  • Neuroscience on a Chip. Albert Folch
  • Multipurpose Microfluidic Probes: Dipoles, Quadrupoles and Electrochemical Sensors for Studies with Cells and Tissue. David Juncker
  • Microfluidics for Cell Sorting and Clinical Applications.Mehmet Toner
  • Immuno-Pillar Chips for Clinical Diagnosis.Manabu Tokeshi
  • Electrohydrodynamic Jet Printing for Hydrogel Cell Culture Substrates.Michael Poellmann, Kira L. Barton and Amy J. Wagoner Johnson
  • Toward a Lithographically Patterned Bio-Artificial Pancreas. Jaehyun Park, Yevgeniy V. Kalinin, Christina L. Randall and David H. Gracias
  • Microfabricated Polyester Microwell Device for Stem Cell Culture Experiments.Seila Selimovic, Francesco Piraino, Hojae Bae, Marco Rasponi, Alberto Redaelli and Ali Khademhosseini
  • Applications of Sensing and Actuation Materials in Medical Micro-Instruments.Yogesh Gianchandani
  • …and many other speakers and topics.

Check out the full program here!

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Diagnostics for All: Saving Lives at Birth

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.

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$10M Tricorder XPRIZE set to launch in 2012

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)
  • High precision
  • 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

The diagnostic sounds similar to several devices already out there (some launched, some in development) such as the AgaMatrix iPhone-connected glucose sensor, the Abbott i-STAT handheld blood analyzer, Boston Microfluidics’ STI diagnostic, and the Zeo sleep monitor, but with more demands in terms of usability and the number of features integrated into one device.

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)?

Are you planning to enter the competition?

For more:
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Gajus Worthington on the early days of Fluidigm

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?

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Microfluidics can control how stem cells communicate

journal.pone .0022892.g001 Microfluidics can control how stem cells communicate

A-B. Microfluidic perfusion device. C. Microfluidic perfusion systems use flow to fine-tune the relative significance of convection, diffusion, and reaction.

Exciting to see the work of Dr. Katarina Blagovic from the Voldman group at MIT published in PLoS ONE last month: “Microfluidic Perfusion for Regulating Diffusible Signaling in Stem Cells.” Katarina continued and extended the work begun during my Ph.D. (I’m a co-author), and it’s wonderful to see the ideas we discussed become reality!

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).

On the commercial front, CellASIC, a company spun out of Luke Lee’s lab at Berkeley, has created a series of products to support microfluidic perfusion culture. And Fluidigm is developing a stem cell culture chip.

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