An optimistic outlook on microfluidics commercialization — are hurdles being cleared?

A PDMS microfluidic device for generation and dilution of two-dimensional combinatorial solution mixtures, integrated with a well array for cell storage and culture from the Khademhosseini lab at Harvard Medical School. See:

Interesting article spotted by Mehmet Dokmeci in Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News on “Microfluidics Making Bigger Impression.” The article touches on commercialization and research trends, including the following themes:

  • Microfluidics could enable fundamentally new measurements at the cell/tissue level (not just faster, cheaper, or miniaturized versions of existing assays). In industry, this relates to what Fluidigm, CellAsic, and others are already doing.

  • “Dr. Manz believes there is growing interest and research on the use of microfluidic devices for cell-based studies. In contrast to the molecular diagnostics arena—in which “I have seen little that is revolutionary about microfluidics in the sense of obtaining fundamentally new information,” Dr. Manz points to new work from the fields of cell biology and tissue engineering.

  • Flurry of recent acquisitions is encouraging: There has definitely been a cluster of acquisitions over the past year, even more than mentioned in the article (e.g., Biocius acquisition by Agilent, Claros Diagnostics acquired by Opko). This may encourage more investment, fueling industry growth.

  • Expiration of patents may encourage commercial development: Manz argues that the expiration of key microfluidics patents should free up the commercialization process.

  • Move toward easier-to-use systems: One form of this is the rise of simpler, paper-based, readerless chips (e.g., Diagnostics for All, Paul Yager’s initiatives). Others are developing systems with all sensing and control integrated into a single, easier-to-use device.