Takeaways from the 2011 Wyss Institute Microfluidics & Medicine Symposium (part 1)

Image source: Wyss Institute

Last month I attended the Wyss Institute’s Symposium on Microfluidics and Medicine, a fantastic gathering of some of the most influential people in microfluidics from around the world. While many speakers were from academia, it was different from a typical academic conference because (in the spirit of the new Wyss Insitute) the focus was on how microfluidics could be launched into society. This was a great opportunity to hear from leaders in the field about the state of microfluidics today, and where things might be going in terms of commercialization. For an official recap, click here. Part 1 below summarizes some of the applications mentioned by speakers.

(Stay tuned for Part 2, which will summarize insights on design and commercialization…)

Summary of Microfluidic Applications:

  • Improving drug discovery/development:

  • David Weitz, Harvard University

  • Will droplets replace robotics for high-throughput screening in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries?

  • Spinout Habsel looking at droplets for screening antibodies. Possibility to directly mine human immune repertoire.

  • Mehmet Fatih Yanik, MIT

  • Microfluidic high-throughput whole-animal experimentation (zebrafish) with in vivo cell-resolution imaging.

  • More on Yanik work and spinout Entera

  • Don Ingber, Director of the Wyss Institute

  • How could organs-on-chips improve drug discovery/development? Could they replace some animal studies?

  • Shuichi Takayama,University of Michigan

  • How to close the gap between unnatural in vitro cell culture conditions and more realistic in vivo conditions?

  • Diagnostics

  • Jaap den Toonder, Philips / University of Technology of Eindhoven

  • Biocartis DNA/RNA microfluidic diagnostic

  • Philips Magnotech handheld immunoassay

  • Mehmet Toner, Massachusetts General Hospital

  • Microfluidic diagnostics for capturing rare circulating tumor cells (CTCs). The number of CTCs tracks with shrinking tumor volume in a responding patient, but once you capture the live CTCs, you can also monitor whether the captured CTCs are dividing. CTCs could be a form of “liquid biopsy” to monitor how non-small cell lung cancer patient responds to gefitinib (Iressa) & explore cancer genetics.

  • CD4 cell counting for HIV (developed with Bill Rodriguez of Daktari Diagnostics): how to selectively capture T-cells but not monocytes?

  • Early stage work on multiscale particle manipulation for sepsis and other applications.

  • Rustem Ismagilov, University of Chicago

  • Microfluidics could be used in global health to measure viral load and monitor potential failure of antiretroviral therapies.

  • Microfluidic SlipChip for handheld RPA.

  • Aaron Wheeler, University of Toronto

  • Digital microfluidics could be used for quantifying hormones in fine-needle microaspirate cancer tissue samples.

  • Another application for digital microfluidics: analysis of dried blood spots for newborn screening. 140,000 samples are processed per year in Ontario alone.

  • Medical devices/therapeutics

  • Don Ingber, Wyss Institute

  • Microfluidic artificial spleen to clean pathogens from the blood

  • Bioengineering

  • Justin Williams, University of Wisconsin-Madison

  • Microfluidic platform for perfusion of functioning brain slices, enabling further experimentation.

  • Can we take the same kinds of design principles used for computer chips to lay out neurons on a chip?

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