FluidicMEMS event: Mehmet Fatih Yanik on high-throughput screening of whole animals

Last night it was terrific hearing MIT Prof. Mehmet Fatih Yanik speak at the second FluidicMEMS event, sponsored by Dolomite Microfluidics and generously hosted by Microsoft New England Research and Development Center. Thanks to co-organizers Joost Bonsen of the MIT Media Lab and John Mills of MIT’s IIH for helping make the event a success!

Often when you think of biological applications of microfluidic devices, you think small: DNA, proteins, single cells. On the other end of the size spectrum, MIT Professor Mehmet Fatih Yanik’s work explores using microfluidics to efficiently experiment with whole animals such asC. elegans worms (~1 mm long) and zebrafish larvae. C. elegans and zebrafish are popularexperimental animals for a variety of reasons, including low cost, sufficiently complex organ systems, and ease of imaging (young zebrafish have transparent bodies). However, performing conventional experiments using these animals is tedious and time consuming.

Enter microfluidics. Yanik’s lab-on-a-chip systems have the potential to speed up experiments on C. elegans and zebrafish ~100x. As seen in the video above, the device can move worms around, immobilize them for imaging or neurosurgery, then sort them. Yanik is creating a start-up around this technology and also spoke recently at the Early Stage Life Sciences Technology Conference in Boston where he described its commercial potential:

Product/Technology Profile

We have a technology to perform high-throughput ultra-high-content pharmaceutical screens on whole-vertebrates (zebrafish) in vivo and at cellular resolution. It allows high-throughput screening of complex phenotypes that cannot be replicated in vitro such as: organ development; neural degeneration and regeneration; stem cell proliferation and migration; cardiovascular, immune, endocrine, and nervous system functions; infectious disease progression; pathogenesis; cancer progression; and tissue specificity and toxicity of drugs. Zebrafish models of several human diseases have been already developed.

Market and Application The potential market is the pharma industry. The size of the market is between $100 million-$1 billion.

Competitive Advantages

There is no substitute for the proposed technology. Current screens on zebrafish are performed either semi-manually (100 fold slower) or the assays are overly simplistic. We will be able to offer much more sophisticated whole-animal assays at much more competitive prices.

Future Financial Plans We need $50k for space, $150k for salaries, ~$400k for equipment. Our major milestone is to generate the first contracts with pharmaceutical companies, and to achieve screening of small to medium size compound libraries within a few weeks.

For more on Yanik’s work:

  • Before his work with whole animals, Yanik was chosen as one of Technology Review’sTR35 in 2007 based on his optics work.

  • Full-text publications available on the group’s website, including papers on the high-throughput animal screening work