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Senso-fluidics: Continuous monitoring using sensors in microfluidics

Senso-fluidics: Continuous monitoring using sensors in microfluidics

Humans have always been fascinated with reverse engineering, whether to create Frankenstein or artificial organs. This science fiction is slowly becoming a reality using the organ-on-chip and tissue engineering technology. In organ-on-chip technology, the physiological function of a human organ is closely mimicked inside a microfluidic channel. Tissue engineering may involve bio-printing of living cells inside a scaffold to mimic a whole organ. Both these technologies offer great promise for developing personalized medicine and studying disease models. The successful use of this technology will depend on the ability to maintain healthy cell environment and monitor biological processes inside microfluidic channels for an extended period of time (~2-4 weeks). By integrating sensors inside microfluidic channels, these parameters can be continuously monitored. The advantages of integrating sensors into microfluidic channels are: (more…)

Seeing is believing: Tissue-chips on the quest to end blindness

Seeing is believing: Tissue-chips on the quest to end blindness

In 2007, Doug Oliver nearly hit two pedestrians while driving his car, and then turned a corner and almost hit a third. He had not seen the pedestrians at all. A police officer gave him two choices: hand over your driver’s license or see an eye doctor. The doctor gave a chilling diagnosis: “At 45, I was legally blind. I went into shock,” Oliver said.

Oliver was born with good eyesight, but due to a hereditary condition, over a decade he had gradually lost much of his vision. For years his sight had been worsening until he underwent experimental stem cell surgery in a Florida-based treatment study. His vision loss was reversed by that surgery in 2015. “I went from legally blind to legal-to-drive in eight weeks,” said the Nashville, Tenn., man. (more…)

Microfluidics and male fertility

Microfluidics and male fertility

Infertility is an ever-increasing public health concern. More than 70 million couples worldwide have experienced infertility issues at least once in their life. This number is one out of each six couples in Canada and Australia. In contrast to many other health concerns, such as Malaria and HIV/AIDS, that mostly affect low-resource settings, infertility is a much bigger concern in developed countries. Notably, in countries such as Canada, USA, UK, Australia, and those in the European Union, the current birth rate per family is far below the threshold of 2.1 to maintain their populations at current levels1. This low birth rate together with the rising trend of infertility point towards a significant aging problem in the near future, which is already a considerable concern for governments and policymakers around the world. Male and female partners each account for ~45% of infertility cases. In the case of male infertility, the issue arises from the incapability of sperm, as a microswimmer, to propagate through the microenvironment of the female reproductive tract to reach the egg and fertilize it. Sperm analysis and selection are crucial to male infertility diagnosis and treatment. However, current clinical methods for semen analysis are costly, and conventional sperm selection approaches are far from the natural process in vivo. (more…)

Microfluidics, meet superbugs

Microfluidics, meet superbugs

When my friends and family ask about my research, and I reply ‘microfluidics’, they always look confused and say, ‘Okay, what is that?’ This is not surprising since I didn’t know the word three years ago. The general public knows about scientific research in certain areas, like cancer, global warming, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. They either are problems we consider important or have applications we can relate to. But in the case of microfluidics, a distinct ‘feature’ is that its fame is mostly restricted to labs that deal with it. But if a technology were to be converted to productivity, people should know something about it, otherwise, they will not become users.

Commercialization of microfluidics has been a point of interest for a long time and has many researchers within the field frustrated. Back in 2006, George Whitesides raised this question in his inspiring paper1, yet more than a decade later we don’t seem to have any good answer.Some say we need a ‘killer app’2, while others point to the gap between academia and industry3. Whatever the reason may be, we can all agree that commercialization is an important step which microfluidics as a technology hasn’t been able to take. (more…)

Personalizing Medicine with the Organ-on-a-Chip Technology: Where Do We Stand?

Personalizing Medicine with the Organ-on-a-Chip Technology: Where Do We Stand?

Creating a miniaturized copy of yourself may sound crazy a decade ago, but not that much anymore – it is gradually realized by the organ-on-a-chip technology, little by little.

Imagine you get sick, you go to the doctor, who prescribes a medicine to you, most often empirically. You return to home, take the medicine, and heal. Or sometimes symptoms continue, or occasionally worsen. What do you do? You return to the doctor, complaining that the medicine does not work, and then receive another set of medicine, again very likely, by empiricism. The second medicine may heal you, or if unlucky, you may need to repeat this process for a few additional rounds prior to final recovery. Who knows. This scenario perhaps sounds familiar to most people, because it is how today’s medicine is practiced.A step forward, if the illness is much more serious than just a cold, modern technology may start to come into the play of its treatment. For example, patients with cancer typically receive molecular and genetic profiling to identify mutations, which are subsequently used to determine the class of drugs to prescribe. However, a biomarker often does not translate into a successful clinical response to the selected therapy. In a well-known case, cancer patients with wild-type KRAS protein are treated with Cetuximab, but only about 3 in 10 will ever respond to the drug, while the rest, unfortunately, instead of being cured, suffer side effects without noticeable benefits. (more…)

Organs-on-Chips and Animal Lovers: Dovetailing on the Medical Frontier

Organs-on-Chips and Animal Lovers: Dovetailing on the Medical Frontier

The impact of organoid research on popular culture is nowhere more evident than in the common ground between innovation and animal rights proponents. Organs-on-chips harbor the potential to reduce animal testing of new drugs and cosmetics. In 2017, the U.S. National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences funded 13 institutions with awards to develop tissue-on-chip models. Several of the awards mirror four-legged friends’ enduring goals.

Muscle disease is one example. One of the NCATS awards is for “Systemic Inflammation in Microphysiological Models of Muscle and Vascular Disease.” This Duke University project focuses on skeletal muscle and blood vessels. The models will replicate inflammation, in order to assess variation in responses to drugs. A similar award went to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for “Development of a Microphysiological Organ-on-Chip System to Model Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease,” to highlight novel biomarkers. There is no cure for ALS, a neurological condition that stops voluntary muscle movements including chewing, walking, talking and ultimately, breathing. Animal rights proponents welcome these endeavors because they have been vexed for years by the use of dogs for research that leaves them crippled with muscular dystrophy and unable to walk, swallow, or breathe. (more…)

Microfluidics Technologies for Circulating Tumor Cell Analysis: Opportunities and Challenges

Microfluidics Technologies for Circulating Tumor Cell Analysis: Opportunities and Challenges

Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are tumor cells that are shed from cancerous tumors into the circulatory systems. CTCs are present in early-stage cancers and are reported to relate to disease prognosis. In recent years, CTCs have drawn increasing attention in both academic and industrial research, as they offer opportunities for the early detection, monitoring, treatment evaluation of cancer and its metastasis 1.

CTCs are challenging to capture, isolate and characterize in nature. First, CTCs are extremely rare in patients’ blood samples. One CTC usually exists among a background of millions of blood cells. Furthermore, CTCs are highly heterogeneous in physical characteristics and biological properties. No separation technology which is based on a single capture mechanism can produce pure and representative CTC subpopulations. In the traditional liquid biopsy, CTCs are isolated either by immunoaffinity strategies or by biophysical features differentiation. However, existing macro-scale isolation systems suffer important drawbacks, such as low capture efficiency, incomplete automation and low viability of captured CTCs 2. As a promising alternative, microfluidic technologies have gained tremendous interest in the field. Microfluidic technologies create devices that are at or smaller than the cellular length scale and enable accurate capturing and manipulation at single cell level. These technologies also offer precise control of fluid flow, which can greatly facilitate affinity reactions and physical separation. Moreover, on a microfluidic chip, CTC capturing and next-step analysis can be integrated to minimize intermediate sample handling and shorten the processing time. Above all, microfluidic approaches allow gentle isolation of live cells and thus enable many downstream analyses that rely on captured live CTCs 3. (more…)

Democratizing health care access in developing countries

Democratizing health care access in developing countries

In the past decade, technology advances have focused on generating comfort for a few. However, academics and entrepreneurs are shifting the luxury trend in order to serve society as a whole.

Scientific research was never meant to stay on papers. Just as Lab-on-a-Chip devices true destiny is in poor communities in developing countries. Academics all around the world have worked with a Lab-on-a-Chip concept, imagining that the power of a state-of-art laboratory could fit in their pocket. Contrary to popular belief, engineers and scientist are highly creative people, otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to imagine complex micro-manufacturing of chips to make health testing easier.

Jules Verne, a French author, image a vehicle that could go underwater in “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.” Years later, visionary scientists were able to make a submarine made true. The military industry propelled this and others innovations, but after the war, they have been able to serve in deep oceans explorations. Today’s battles are not fought on fronts but with corruption and poverty.

Prof. Marc Madou from University of California, Irvine and Dario Mager from KIT university showing a lab-on-a-CD.

Prof. Marc Madou from University of California, Irvine and Dario Mager from KIT university showing a lab-on-a-CD. Credit: Monica Arreola

Lab-on-a-Chip is both a device and a sensor. By being a device the size of a human palm, the transportation is made easier. But in order to work as a laboratory, sensors need to be attached to the micro canals of the device. Inspiration à la Verne was what made Marc Madou build a Lab-on-a-Chip in the size of a CD-Rom. The professor of University of California, Irvine and of Tecnológico de Monterrey (Mexico) realized that while predecessors have managed to create the device and the sensors, there was still a need to analyze the results of the tests. (more…)

We Have Liftoff: Organs-on-Chips in Space

We Have Liftoff: Organs-on-Chips in Space

When British neuroscientists began developing brain organoids to study autism and schizophrenia some years ago, their colleague Dr. Martin Coath, of the University of Plymouth, publicly stated that they were fueling a crisis: “A human brain that was ‘fully working’ would be conscious, have hopes, dreams, feel pain, and would ask questions about what we were doing to it.”

Fears akin to Coath’s have trended ever since Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein” in 1818. While it is unlikely that organoids will be asking what we’re doing to them anytime soon, it is likely that they will be doing some space traveling.

The U.S. Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), in collaboration with the U.S. National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), plan to study organs-on-chips onboard the International Space Station-National Laboratory (ISS-NL). Data from this effort will contribute to research about microphysiological systems technologies. (more…)

Metastasis-on-chip and the future of medical microfluidics

Metastasis-on-chip and the future of medical microfluidics

Innovations in microfluidic modelling of the human body have enabled medical researchers to study pathology to a level of accuracy and efficiency that was previously unattainable.

These ‘disease-on-chip’ models build on previous advances in organ-on-chip technology, creating devices that can model disease processes specific to each modelled organ. Notable disease-on-chip innovations include Kambez Benam and colleagues’ model of human lung inflammation, and the device mimicking arterial thrombosis created by Pedro Costa and collaborators at the Universities of Twente and Utrecht. The key advantage of disease-on-chip technology over conventional disease models is that it facilitates assays that are both physiologically relevant and high-throughput.

One particular area in which such advantages promise to have enduring and significant impact is cancer biology, thanks to pioneering work done in modelling cancerous disease processes. Metastasis-on-chip is one such advance. (more…)