Takeaways from the 2011 Wyss Institute Microfluidics & Medicine Symposium (part 2)

Continuing with part 2 of insights shared at the Wyss Institute’s Symposium on Microfluidics & Medicine held in May 2011. (Part 1 is here.)

Device Design Insights

  • Simplify, simplify, simplify!

  • “Nothing must be more complex than absolutely necessary.” Keep the design simple, including fluidics and cartridge/instrument interfacing. (Jaap den Toonder, Philips)

  • New directions: Computerless chips & channel-less fluid patterns. Reduce external, off-chip instrumentation. (Shuichi Takayama, University of Michigan)

  • Reduce costs of materials and detection elements

  • Avoid costly elements in the disposable cartridge – optical detection preferred over Si-integrated GMR. (Jaap den Toonder, Philips)

  • At MGH with the CTC-chip they’ve had a design progression from expensive, Si-based DRIE chips to herringbone mixer design, now made of cyclic olefin. (Mehmet Toner, MGH)

  • At MGH the main cost for the disposable is the antibodies, not the plastic cartridge itself. (Mehmet Toner, MGH)

  • At Diagnostics for All the fabrication cost per chip is 1/300 of one cent using paper microfluidic technology from the Whitesides Lab. (Una Ryan, Diagnostics for All)

  • New device must consider cost, convenience, connectivity, consolidation. Abbott’s i-STAT device wins on all except cost. (Larry Kricka, Univ. of Pennsylvania)

Commercialization Insights

  • Commercialization can take a long time (both for an individual company/product, and for a field as a whole)

  • For years the laser was a solution looking for a problem, but it’s now very successful. Is microfluidics similar? (Stephen Quake, Stanford)

  • At RainDance Technologies, it took three years to develop how to do biology in the droplets. (Darren Link, RainDance Technologies)

  • The widespread dominance of PDMS in academia may be hindering commercialization

  • We need more materials to help propel commercial success. In 2010, 40% of devices in Lab on a Chip were PDMS. (Harp Minhas, Lab on a Chip)

  • Although many academic groups use PDMS, commercial microfluidics companies are driven toward plastics due to cost. Transitioning from PDMS to plastic often means that the chemistries need to be reworked, costing time and money.

  • Understanding the business angle is crucial

  • Significant challenges here, since most microfluidics companies are spun out of academia and founders may have little-to-no business experience. You need an appreciation for business side of things. (Abe Lee, UC Irvine)

  • The sooner you can get to the customers and understand what they want/need, the better. (Darren Link, RainDance)

  • Standards could make development more efficient (but not everyone wants standards)

  • We need more standards in microfluidics so people aren’t building everything from scratch. (Harp Minhas, Lab on a Chip)

  • However, not everyone in the industry wants standards because many are developing their own proprietary systems. Disposables manufacturers want standards to grow their markets.

  • When are microfluidic systems a good fit?

  • The Yanik group at MIT also created a non-microfluidic system to interface with existing micro-well-plate formats.

  • Point of care is better fit for microfluidics compared with central hospital labs. The potential of microfluidic point of care (POC) diagnostics to reduce hospital visits is a real prospect for the future. There’s also potential for new retail sites for POC testing. (Larry Kricka, Univ. of Pennsylvania)

  • The future: how will microfluidics be incorporated into society?

  • The healthcare model must undergo a paradigm shift; individuals must be more involved in their own healthcare, motivating more point-of-care in vitro diagnostics. (Harp Minhas, Lab on a Chip)

  • Commercialization is the next step needed to drive the level of investment needed to develop microfluidic technology. What are the new capabilities coming from microfluidics? Competing on cost alone is challenging, but it’s also valuable to think about the cheapest way of doing something. Computers led to technologies that you’d never have expected. Will the same be true for microfluidics? (George Whitesides, Harvard)