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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)